The Problem With Confession Booths
Hemant Mehta ( ,
If you grew up Catholic, then you’re familiar with the Confession Booth. That’s when you’re supposed to go on a regular basis to confess all the sins you’ve committed since the last time you were there. These could be smaller sins, like you cheated on a test, to unforgivable sins, like “I’m gay and my boyfriend and I got it on and it was amazing.” Seriously, the Catholic Church says that act is “intrinsically disordered”
Anyway, the priest hears you out, and then suggests a way to make amends for your sins. It could be as simple as saying some prayers, some Hail Marys or Our Fathers. It could be telling you to volunteer at a soup kitchen. The idea is, sure, Christ died for our sins, and sure, you have to genuinely be repentant, but you should also do something else to make up for what you did.
But here’s the really important thing about Confession. It is a secret between you and the priest. The priest cannot tell anybody what you told him. That’s part of the deal. Priests are bound by the Seal of Confession. They promise to die before revealing what you told them, and to break that would mean getting kicked out of the Church. Which sounds great to me, but they wouldn’t want that.
It’s that promise that’s been a problem for Catholic priests lately. In South Australia, for example, they just passed a law requiring priests to go to the authorities if someone confesses, for example, that he molested a child.
And the priests don’t want to do it. They say secular law is not as important as the Seal of Confession.
The irony in this situation is that the acting archbishop who said that got his job because the actual archbishop was convicted of covering up child abuse.
In another case, a priest named Michael McArdle apparently confessed to molesting kids 1,500 times, to 30 different priests, over 25 years. No one reported him to the police. He was just forgiven 1,500 times.
That’s what the new law is designed to stop.
So the question is: What should take precedence: Religious beliefs or secular law? It’s the same argument we have when a pharmacist doesn’t want to give a patient birth control because he thinks it’s abortion, or when a baker won’t serve gay customers because it’d violate his conscience.
Just like in those instances, secular law has to win. We are not governed by religious rules no matter how seriously some people take them.
I used to be a teacher, and if a student confided in me that she was cutting herself or I noticed marks on her arms, I had a legal obligation to tell her counselor about that. It didn’t matter that I was breaking a trust. And that makes sense. My silence would have meant more harm to that student.
Priests should have that same obligation. No number of Hail Marys is as important as stopping an abuser before he commits another crime.
To paraphrase an Australian TV host, by staying silent, they’re just protecting predators in God’s name.
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