Not being Catholic, my understanding of the role of confession in religion is limited. But Catholic friends whose judgment I trust tell me that in their view the debate over compulsory reporting of crimes admitted in confession is pointless. They say that it is quite unlikely that a priest guilty of illegal sexual abuse would confess his guilt in confession. It would be even more unlikely if he were a serial offender not offering genuine contrition and not truly committed to abstaining. And only a mad priest would confess to a crime if he knew that the law required the person to whom he had confessed to report this confession to the police.
It is surprising then that the Catholic Church refuses to bend on this issue. In The Australian on Saturday, a priest made the following arguments.
Without the surety of confidentiality no one would come to confession and speak about their deepest, darkest faults for fear of this being used against them by others….If those seeking confession know that anything they confess may be reported to police, why wouldn’t they go directly to police and report it themselves?
This is empiricism without the benefit of evidence. And it sounds badly wrong. Is it seriously suggested that members of the flock are so criminal and neurotic that they will not go to confession if they believe that the admission of a serious crime has to be reported to the police?
…in seeking to break the seal on confession, the government, by essentially making priests agents of the state, fundamentally would breach the separation of power between state and the church.
Well, I have to report to government often – for tax, licensing, or electoral purposes, for example – but it would be silly to say that I then become an agent of the state or that that silly proposition may have some forensic consequences. If you want to frame the argument in large terms, what this church is seeking to say is that it ought to be above or outside the law, and is therefore seeking to undermine the rule of law.
In my view, therefore, those arguments go nowhere. It is worrying that their author is an archbishop. And anyone who thinks that this is a good time for a priest to say that he should be outside the law is crackers.
This is where climate change emerges as a classic post-material concern. It is cost-free virtue-signalling. The arguments are mainly emotive and any politician attempting to run against the tide by introducing facts and realism would be worried about the backlash in social and mainstream media….Apart from obvious risks in meddling with foreign policy settings for domestic political gain, the trouble with this sort of superficial campaigning is that it assumes blocks of voters can be picked off here and there with policies and giveaways, it tends to insult the intelligence of those same voters. Rather than win votes, it may fuel disdain for the major parties and their tactics…..It is as though our political media class is focussed on the half-time entertainment….They ought to have more faith in the electorate….The enduring criticism of Labor and Liberal prime ministers across this lost decade has been too much focus on politics over policy, spin over substance or popularity over respect….Now Scott Morrison has inherited a broken Coalition, rescued from its lurch to the Left…..
The Australian, 20 October 2018
And so it goes – on and on and on. It’s as if Mr Kenny keeps two A4 pages in a drawer and just re-orders the catch-phrases. But it shows clearly why people in Wentworth rejected both major parties, and why every night the leaders of the ALP and the Greens go down on their knees to thank the Almighty for the blessings bestowed on them by Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, the IPA and The Australian.