16 July 2011

Threat to seal of confession by Irish government

Thanks to Fr Ray Blake's Blog for photo

The Irish media reports that Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald intend to introduce legislation that would require priests to break the seal of confession in order to report anyone who confesses the sin of abusing a minor or vulnerable adult.

Social workers have already expressed their concern over mandatory reporting of suspected abuse,as The Irish Times reports today.

I am inclined to think that the proposal about the seal of confession is a non-starter and that the comments of Mr Kenny and of Ms Fitzgerald are an expression of disgust, a disgust which many of us Irish feel. When the matter is debated in a calmer atmosphere I think that what is being proposed will be seen as a form of abuse parallel to the abuse it is trying to stamp out.

Today’s Irish Examiner carries this front-page story: ‘THE HSE [Health Service Executive] has ordered an investigation into how social services failed to intervene in what a judge described as the "torture" of eight children by their mother over seven years’. Read more here.

In other words, Irish government workers, and the wider community, failed to do anything about a horrific situation that was known to the authorities and to at least some in the wider community. There was a similar case last year where even the town couldn’t be named for legal reasons when the trial of a mother was held. She too was found guilty.

I have written on this blog before about a Columban priest from New Zealand, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas (above), was tortured and killed by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1943 quite probably because he refused to break the seal of confession.

Recently I came across this moving account of hearing confessions by Fr John Blowick, co-founder of the Columbans, to which I belong, while the first batch of Columbans were on their way to China in 1920. I found this in The Chinese Batch by Fr Bernard T. Smyth, a now deceased Columban. I have highlighted some parts.

Frs Edward Galvin, John Blowick and Owen MacPolin, all mentioned below, shortly after their arrival in China.

The next afternoon found the Carmania only ten miles off the coast of Ireland; then out to open sea.

The crossing was quiet. Saturday, 3 April, was Holy Saturday, so Father Galvin [the other co-founder of the Columbans] went to the captain to make arrangements for Catholic sailors to go to Confession and Holy Communion for Easter. About Confession there was no great trouble, provided the men were not on duty. But Mass and Holy Communion on Sunday – that was quite another matter and quite opposed to the traditions of the service. First, the men were ‘unspeakably dirty’ and secondly it was a thing unheard of to allow them into places reserved for the use of passengers, specially first and second class passengers! But Edward Galvin was not a man to be easily baulked by the traditions, however venerable, of the service; and finally it was arranged that the men could come to Mass provided they were first well scrubbed. Fathers Blowick and MacPolin proceeded ‘below’, to hear the confessions of the crew. An extract from John Blowick’s diary describes Holy Saturday on the Carmania.

Father MacPolin and I went into the depths to hear their confessions this afternoon. We were descending till we thought we should never see the surface again and then we were shown into two little rooms, wet and dirty. The passage leading to the door of the room which I occupied was ankle deep in water and it was edifying to see the poor fellows standing in that mess waiting for their turn; they were being rounded up by one of the officers who was a Catholic, and so well did he do his work that when we went up to dinner at six o’clock there was not one single Catholic member of the ship’s crew who had not been to confession.

Hard work you may say, repulsive even sitting down there near the engines, in water and dirt and just trying to keep from getting sick. Yes, all that but the consolation of being able to bring the mercy of God into the lives of these poor fellows was a full reward was it not? And, as we passed through their quarters afterwards, the smile of recognition and respect and gratitude is something that you would do a good deal to merit.

After dinner Father Tierney heard confessions in the second [class] cabin, Father O’Doherty in the first and the others in the third where the Catholics were most numerous. In this latter place were our three young priests who then for the first time sat in the sacred judgment seat dispensing the mercy of God to His children. Father Galvin acted as a marshal, escorting them in to the room in which the priests were and showing them out. As each one left the room after confession, they knelt outside in the passage, saying their prayers and their penances and the publicity of the place and the presence of crowds of non-Catholics looking on with a sort of superstitious curiosity did not seem to have any effect on the fervor of their prayers. Every Catholic on board went to confession tonight.


Mulier Fortis said...

Thank you for this, Father, and for the comment on my blog.

Unfortunately, while the proposal to make this law may only be an "expression of disgust" we have to oppose it as vociferously as possible.

No-one believed that the Sexual Orientation Regulations in the UK would result in Catholic Adoption Agencies being unable to operate according to Church teaching, but that has been the result. More and more attacks against the freedom of the Church to act as she believes are happening. We have to make it clear that such attempts to erode the Faith will not be tolerated.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

I agree with you that we have to oppose the proposed legislation 'as vociferously as possible'. I intend to email Taoiseach Kenny, Minister for Children Fitgerald, Justice Minister Shatter and the TDs who represent the area I go home to.