Priestly Identity

Why would the Vatican think that further separating seminarians from other students can help prevent them abusing children? If anything, becoming more enclosed and collegiate will make them less likely to reveal the criminals within their ranks, not more. What this tells us about the Church’s mentality is shocking, but not surprising. Inevitably a religious institution, even one as worldly and cynical as this, reverts to magical thinking: As God’s representative on Earth it cannot be wrong, not fundamentally. Therefore the causes of abuse must come from outside. It stands to reason.

The further implication is that the problem can somehow be traced back to the slight liberalisation that paved the way for more open seminaries. Plenty living people can attest to being abused before Vatican II of course, but such evidence is invalid because it doesn’t fit with the magical thinking. Or indeed, with the general prejudice in the Church against openness.

But what is worse, it shows the Vatican still resisting the idea that clerical sexual abuse is its fault. It must have been tainted by exposure to other people. Other, less pure and spiritual people. Women, is the word that’s not being spoken aloud here. If the Catholic Church can somehow blame women for child abuse, it will.

This is wilful self-delusion. Of course the problems of the Church do not come from the pernicious influence of ordinary people. They come right from the soul of the institution – the belief that it is an instrument of the will of God. This is what allows it to consider itself above the law, to ‘protect’ its own members from justice, to let them keep raping.

The Catholic Church can never be trusted with children until the day that it admits it is not an organisation carrying out God’s will. And that day will never come.

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.