French Officials: Priests Can’t Protect Abusers Using the “Seal of Confession” October 13, 2021

French Officials: Priests Can’t Protect Abusers Using the “Seal of Confession”

After a bombshell investigation into France’s Catholic Church found that, since 1950, there were 333,000 sexual abuse victims and roughly 3,200 abusers, you would hope that Catholic leaders would be first in line to demand change. But that would be naïve. Why would anyone expect Church leaders to want to help victims after decades of covering up abuse?

One of the simplest actions priests could take is agreeing to become mandated reporters.

As it stands, if someone walks into a confessional booth and admits to molesting a child, the priest doesn’t have to do anything with that information. Just say a couple of Hail Marys and be done with it. (Compare that to public school teachers, who are required by U.S. law to tell a social worker if they learn about, or suspect, a child being abused.)

Why won’t they agree to report suspected abusers? Vatican officials have long claimed that the “seal of confession” is sacrosanct. Anything said in a confessional booth must be kept secret no matter what.

That leads to absurd consequences. In Australia, for example, a priest confessed to committing 1,500 acts of molestation (not a typo) to 30 separate priests over 25 years. Because of the sacred seal, though, no one ever reported his crimes, allowing the abuse to continue.

And yet that’s what France’s top Catholic leader wants to preserve even if it means abusers won’t face accountability:

France’s top bishop,Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, had initially expressed “shame and horror” at the report, but in an interview a few days later he sparked outrage by rejecting the commission’s recommendation to require priests to inform police of any child abuse cases learned about during the sacrament of confession.

Moulins-Beaufort, the head of the Bishops’ Conference of France, had told Franceinfo: “The secrecy of confession is a requirement and will remain a requirement — in a way, it is above the laws of the Republic. It creates a free space for speaking before God.”

The Catholic Church cares more about providing a safe space for alleged child molesters than doing what’s necessary to protect victims. How committed is the Church to eradicating abuse and abusers from within their walls if they won’t agree to report what they know?

Here’s the good news, though: French officials aren’t allowing religious irrationality to triumph over the safety of children.

Immediately after the meeting [with the bishop], [Minister of the Interior Gérald] Darmanin was applauded by members of parliament in the National Assembly when he said: “I told him what I say to all religions: there is no law that is superior to the laws of the National Assembly and the Senate … The French Republic respects all religions from the moment they respect the Republic and the laws of the Republic.”

President Emmanuel Macron, who has criticised ultra-conservative Muslims in the past for what he described as attempts to subvert French law, had asked the interior minister to hold the meeting with the Catholic bishop in order to “make sure that things are clear,” the government spokesperson said last week.

“Nothing takes precedence over the laws of the Republic in our country,” the spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, had said.

It’s not a done deal yet. But hopefully France’s government will have better success than U.S. officials when it comes to getting the Church to put the interests of children over the protection of their abusers.

(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Bob for the link)

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