(Lepanto Institute) — A retired Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has called upon the people of the state of Delaware to support HB 74, which would require priests to report issues of child abuse or neglect should they be mentioned in the confessional. Originally published in USA Today, Fr. James E. Connell penned an op-ed titled, “Why Delaware’s clergy-penitent privilege law should be repealed,” wherein he concluded that, “all people in Delaware should support the proposed HB 74 that would repeal the Delaware clergy-penitent privilege statute.”
Fr. Connell argues that:
no valid freedom of religion argument rooted in the absence of truth can provide a moral justification for sheltering perpetrators of abuse or neglect of children from their deserved punishment, while also endangering potential victims.
As such, he concludes that:
governments should intervene such that, while perhaps frustrating the free exercise of religion for some people, the greater good of protecting children from abuse or neglect would be enhanced for the common good of all people.
Currently, three other states are also considering laws that would force priests to violate the seal of confession; Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
Fr. Connell, a Chicago divorcee who was ordained to the priesthood in 1987, is a canon lawyer who served as the Vice Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1994-2012. After being appointed to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s sexual abuse review board in 2003 by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, he has been active in what he calls “victim advocacy” since at least 2010, when he started meeting with members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the same organization that accused him of acting to cover up sex abuse by priests in October of 2009.
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In 2012, Fr. Connell spoke at an event hosted by Voice of the Faithful, an organization intimately connected to the notorious Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, to speak on his “new mission” to speak out on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by priests.
In 2013, Fr. Connell became a founding steering committee member of Catholic Whistleblowers, an organization that describes itself as “a network of current and former priests, women religious, brothers, deacons, and laypersons who actively support survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.”
Fr. Connell first attacked the seal of confession in 2018 when he wrote an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter titled, “Now is the time to modify the Catholic Church’s ‘seal of confession’.” In this essay, Fr. Connell argued that “sexual abusers go unreported to civil and church authorities” because “Catholic Church law unconditionally forbids any priest from betraying a penitent, for any reason whatsoever.” He suggests that the Church’s use of public penances for certain crimes is an indication that the seal of confession is “not a matter of divine law,” and therefore Pope Francis:
should release from the seal of confession all information regarding sexual abuse of a minor or a vulnerable adult so that this information may be provided to civil and church authorities.
In May of 2019, Fr. Connell sued the states of Wisconsin, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Vermont, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to revoke constitutional protections for the seal of confession. The court’s order to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice states:
Plaintiff seeks to challenge “the constitutionality of the use of a clergy-penitent privilege within State mandatory report of child abuse or neglect laws and related Rules of Evidence laws.” (Docket #1 at 7). Each of the States has enacted laws requiring certain persons to report suspected child abuse. Id. However, each state has also provided that members of the clergy are prohibited from reporting such conduct if the information arose in a confession or other confidential religious setting. Id. Plaintiff claims that this use of the clergy-penitent privilege violates the substantive due process rights of children under the Fifth Amendment, by depriving children of a vital source of protection against abusers. Id. He contends that the harm created by using the privilege in this way outweighs the interests in freedom of religion embodied in the States’ approach to clergy abuse reporting. Id at 8. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment that the subject laws are unconstitutional. Id. at 9.
It should be noted that since the filing of this lawsuit, attempts have been made by legislators in Wisconsin, Arizona, California, Delaware, and Vermont to violate the protection of the confessional, as if those states’ legislators are taking up the gauntlet thrown down by Fr. Connell.
While it is undeniable that there is a deep crisis within the Church regarding the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by priests, it is equally undeniable that Fr. Connell is attacking they very sacrament of Confession itself by suggesting that the seal could, and even SHOULD, be broken for certain crimes. And what’s worse is that his attacks are being actualized by state legislators.
What is particularly galling about this situation is that good priests who wish to uphold the Church’s teachings against the sexual perversions of homosexuality and transgender ideologies, stand against politicians who promote moral abominations while receiving Holy Communion, or wish to celebrate the Ancient Rite of the Mass in Latin are being suspended, removed from parishes, and persecuted, while priests like Fr. Connell are allowed to remain “in good standing” without so much as a word of condemnation from the hierarchy.
The Lepanto Institute is calling on faithful Catholics everywhere to contact the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for the silencing and sanctioning of Fr. Connell. What he is doing poses a clear and present danger to the free practice of the Catholic Faith and he MUST be stopped!
Contact the Archdiocese!
Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Secretary to the Archbishop
Barbara Anne Cusack
Rev. Ricardo Martin
Vicar for Ordained and Lay Ecclesial Ministry
Very Rev. Nathan Reesman
Vicar for Clergy
Minister to Priests
Rev. Alan Veik, OFMCap
Reprinted with permission from the Lepanto Institute.