China, The Vatican, And Ireland

Pope Benedictus XVI at a private audience (Jan...
I'll Get You For This, Kenny

This is priceless. Our Taoiseach‘s recent outburst against the Vatican has been taken up by the official Chinese media – which is not really a different thing from the Chinese government – in support of its campaign against the Catholic Church.

What campaign? Well basically, the government think they should appoint Catholic priests, rather than the Catholic hierarchy. Much as they have an ‘official’ Dalai Lama, etc. Ain’t that an interesting idea?

Wow, I really don’t know which way to jump on this one. Much as I think the Vatican should basically not do anything anywhere at all, a state-appointed priesthood is an extraordinarily totalitarian idea.

Well OK, the English invented it. But that was back when England was really very totalitarian. It’s as opposite to the separation of church and state as is possible. On the other hand, I think it would be great if Catholics in Ireland cut ties with Rome.

It’s a power struggle between two quite different yet equally objectionable powers – when I think about, probably the two most powerful absolutist regimes on Earth. And now Enda Kenny is caught in the middle.

Maybe I’ll just get some popcorn and enjoy this one.

It’s Not About Seals

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...
"Godwin'd!" "Dummarsch" Meeting Of Ireland's Taoiseach and Papal Nuncio

For his criticism of the Pope, one priest has likened Ireland’s prime minister to Adolf Hitler. Another called Justice Minister Alan Shatter a “Jewish non-practising atheist

When your opponents call you Hitler and a Jew, you must be doing something right.

In the wake of the Catholic hierarchy treating child protection rules as something that happens to other people, government has little option but to put them on a statutory basis, complete with the sanction of jail terms for those who “withhold information relating to sexual abuse or other serious offences against a child or vulnerable adult”. There seems no other way – indeed one wonders how that isn’t the law already.

Those who would defend the indefensible however want to characterise this as requiring priests to break the ‘seal of confession’, the vow to treat anything revealed in the confessional in absolute confidence. This is mendacious. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating – no one is going to get a conviction based on a private conversation between two people. Even in the unlikely scenario of a convicted child abuser accusing his confessor of failing to report him, his testimony would still be uncorroborated.

What about a scenario where a priest hears a child “confess” that someone has been interfering with them? Even if the priests still considers that information privileged, surely he would take whatever action he could to ascertain for himself, outside the confessional, whether the child really was in any danger, would report any reasonable suspicions to the relevant agencies, and would encourage the child to do so too.

And surely he would consider himself morally compelled to do that whether this law was in force or not.

Wouldn’t he?

But the law is not aimed at confessors. It is aimed at stopping the Catholic hierarchy concealing information they have about abusing priests, information that they are acting on themselves. Which – unless they themselves are breaking the seal – does not come from confessions, but usually from the complaints of victims or their parents. People who protest that the law will threaten the sacrament of confession are merely out to defend the autocracy of that hierarchy.