Friday, 26 April 2013

More casuistry from 'Facing the Truth' in Melbourne

You might recall that the Victorian dioceses have established a website called Facing the Truth to get out the Churches side of the story in relation to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry.

Casuistry is alive and well and living in Melbourne...

I've commented previously that some of the responses to alleged 'misconceptions' the site attempts to address seemed to be a bit of a stretch.

The latest one surely takes the biscuit.

The issue it discusses is the potential for conflict between canon law (which legislates for the seal of confession) and a potential civil law that attempted to require a priest to break the seal of confession.

It is entirely hypothetical of course, since no such law has yet been either recommended or included in a draft bill.

But get this.  The answer the Facing the Truth website suggests is that such a law would not actually be in conflict with canon law - because the real conflict would be with freedom of religion.

Well maybe it would indeed be in conflict with freedom of religion.

But it would also be in conflict with canon law, since Canon 983 stipulates that:

"The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason."

Indeed, the nature of the direct conflict was canvassed fairly thoroughly in a rather alarmist piece by US canonist Cathy Caridi a few weeks back (I say alarmist because the prospect of any legislation arising out of the Royal Commission, which she was focusing on, is several years away; the possibility of a recommendation arising from the current Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry however is rather more immediate, as it is due to report in September).

There are lots of good arguments that can be deployed against any proposal to force priests to breach the seal.

The assault on freedom of religion is one of them.

But oh dear, oh dear, why not frame the question so that you can give the answer you are trying to argue!

A fails at spin doctoring!

Here is the Question and Answer from the website provided with my comments:


Is there a conflict between canon and civil law?

First, it’s important to point out that this is a hypothetical question, as we do not at present face any conflicts between civil law and canon law. [So far so good]

The one area where there is potential for conflict is if a new law were to require priests to break the seal of confession. [Indeed!] But that would not be a conflict between civil law and canon law. [Oh really?  Why even try and go down this path!]

Civil law currently recognises the seal of confession in the Evidence Act.  It does not do that because of respect for canon law, but because both it and canon law have acted independently of one another to recognise that what happens in confession is in fact an act of worship, and should be protected because of the fundamental right to freedom of religion. [True and a good reason to argue against any change  to the law.  All the same, the reason why a civil is enacted is irrelevant to the factual question of whether or not it would be in conflict with canon law.]

What a person says in confession is part of a liturgical ritual and is directed to God.  [So what - there are lots of other acts of worship directed to God that are not secret!] The priest hears it only as a witness. So while to an observer it might resemble counselling, it is actually a very different situation. This is reflected in the fact that, once a confession is concluded, a priest cannot discuss or act on what a person has said even with the person themselves.

So if there were to be a civil law requiring a priest to break the seal of confession, the conflict would not be with canon law, [Well yes it would] but with the  fundamental human right to freedom of religion [but that too], which is currently respected by both canon law and civil law.  That would be a very serious matter.


Someone with good judgment needs to exercize a little more supervision over this website, lest whatever shreds of credibility the Victorian Church still retains be lost.

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