Sunday 21st April 2019

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

Will The Law Pierce The Seal Of The Confessional?

July 30, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

Image result for confessionBy MIKE MANNO

Recently Australia’s territorial assembly in Canberra passed a measure tightening Canberra’s child abuse reporting law to include Catholic priests, making it illegal for priests to fail to report abuse they learn about in the confessional. The provision will take effect on March 31 next year.
As I watch attacks on religious liberty, one thing I have noticed is that just because there is an attack overseas doesn’t mean we are immune from it. Those chipping away at our rights are active all over the globe and ideas that start elsewhere will soon find their way to our shores, and the reverse is also true: A lot of our bad ideas migrate elsewhere.
And, in case you are not aware of it, the seeds for a legal piercing of the seal have already been sown here in the context of mandatory reporting of child abuse. It is common knowledge that a priest hearing a Confession is bound by that seal and may not, for any reason, divulge what he has heard and, in fact, may not even identify someone as a penitent whose Confession he has heard. The canonical penalty is automatic excommunication.
The United States has long recognized and protected the seal. The first legal case to do so was the 1813 New York case of People v. Phillips. In that case a thief had confessed and returned the stolen goods to the priest, who in turn, returned the goods to the rightful owner. In an action to compel the priest to identify the thief the court ruled that to do so would infringe upon the priest’s right to freely practice his religion.
A few years later the uniqueness of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation was legally acknowledged in the 1817 case of People v. Smith. There the “penitent” who had spoken to a Protestant minister was not protected since the “confession” was not required by the man’s denomination and thus was viewed only as counseling for spiritual guidance.
The view that took root was that communications for advice or counseling were not protected unless the communication was mandated by a particular religion as part of its practice and dogma.
Later, in 1828 the New York legislature made the protection of the confessional statutory: “No minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatsoever, shall be allowed to disclose any confessions made to him in his professional character, in the course of discipline enjoined by the rules of practice of such denomination.”
Since that time all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some version of a priest penitent privilege, and for most of our history there has been little major litigation over the seal.
However, the Supreme Court has, in dicta (a nonbinding statement or comment made by a court), addressed the issue. In 1875 in Trotten v. United States, the court noted that “suits cannot be maintained which would require a disclosure of the confidences of the confessional.” In United States v. Nixon the issue was the confidentially of discussions between the president and members of his staff and while the court found that there was no privilege there, it compared that claim to the priest-penitent privilege, stating that in the priest case a court must recognize a privilege against disclosure.
Later, in 1980 the Supreme Court in Trammel v. United States said that the reason for maintaining the privilege of the confessional “recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return.”
Now there are two major problems with the legal view of the seal. First, since it is a privilege against disclosure, to whom does the privilege belong? And second, how does this privilege stand up against mandatory reporting laws?
To answer the first question, privileges under the law belong to the person who made the communication. Thus in the attorney-client situation, the client can waive the privilege and the attorney will then be required to disclose the protected information. Under canon law, however, the seal is inviolable and may not be revealed even if the penitent waives confidentially. Obviously, that can set up an uncomfortable situation for the priest (I’ll discuss that a bit later), except in the few states that recognize the priest as the holder of the privilege.
The second question goes to the needs of the state in protecting children: Can a priest be compelled to disclose for the greater good of protecting children? Does the state have a “compelling interest” to secure the protection of children by compelling the disclosure?
Much of the activity concerning how the privilege relates to child abuse was engendered by the 2003 report by The Boston Globe about the alleged child sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. The Globe’s report contained stories of 900 children who had been abused by churchmen. The result was that in 2003 Massachusetts overhauled its mandatory reporting laws to include clergy and 12 states followed suit.
Like the priest-penitent privilege, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had some type of mandatory reporting law. As a result of the Boston scandal, and several other high-profile cases, a few states maintain the privilege only conditionally, and six states have abrogated the priest-penitent privilege completely.
This issue was litigated in Louisiana in the case of Mayeux v. Charlet, where the parents of a minor sued their daughter’s alleged abuser, the priest she claims she “confessed” to, and the Diocese of Baton Rouge. The suit alleged that the priest was aware of the abuse and failed to report it. The teenaged girl wanted to testify that the priest told her to “sweep the incident under the rug” so as not to create a scandal since the accused abuser was a parishioner.
The diocese filed a motion to preclude any testimony about the Confession since any testimony by the girl against the priest would serve as an accusation to which he could not respond. The plaintiff replied that while the girl was in the confessional when she told the priest, it was not a real Confession since being the innocent victim of abuse is not a sin, thus the priest must testify.
The diocese lost at the trial court but the appeals court reversed and the matter went to the State Supreme Court which held that since a cleric was a mandatory reporter and under the state law “any mandatory reporter who has cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare is endangered as a result of abuse or neglect…shall report in accordance with Article 610.” The court also noted that the child, through her parents, did waive the privilege.
However, what saved the privilege — at least for the time being — was the court, in vacating the appellate opinion, remanded the case to the trial court for “further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The district court, last September, held that the jury cannot consider what the girl, now an adult, told the priest. The judge ruled that the determination of whether or not a Confession occurred was determined by canon law which is outside the jurisdiction of civil courts. However, if comments were made to the priest outside of the confessional, they would be subject to the reporting law.
Where does this go from here? We don’t know, but we do know what the Australians are doing. So rest assured that in this politically correct climate the issue will surely arise and the Church will be attacked here, all in the name of protection of children.
Be prepared, it is only a matter of time before that assault will be launched and priests forced to do a perp walk for refusing to comply.

Share Button

2019 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Twitter Feed

He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid - https://t.co/2PUxpO4hgu

Fr. James Schall passed away today. A Jesuit priest & Georgetown professor, he served as mentor & model to a numberless many (including me). With penetrating insight & wit, he pointed us to Christ & those great Catholic minds we mustn't forget.

Fr. Schall, requiescat in pace.

Please pray for Raymond DeSousa today, who is a weekly Wanderer columnist who is undergoing serious surgery today.

Load More...

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., has died at the age of 91

Fr. James V. Schall, the prolific and much-beloved Jesuit, professor and author, died earlier today. His family states that “he was comfortable and at peace” at the time of his death. He was born in Pocahontas, Iowa, January 20, 1928.…Continue Reading

North Carolina Gov. vetoes bill requiring care for babies born alive after failed abortion

RALEIGH, April 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – North Carolina Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Thursday morning that would require abortionists to provide basic medical care to newborns who survive failed abortions, just days after the measure cleared the state legislature.…Continue Reading

How Cardinal Wuerl Misled the Papal Foundation

In 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl provided false and misleading information to the board of the Papal Foundation to secure a $25 million grant for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), a scandal-plagued hospital in Rome. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro…Continue Reading

Since “Unplanned” Movie Released, 94 Abortion Clinic Workers Have Said They May Quit Their Jobs

Abby Johnson’s powerful conversion story is moving hearts inside the abortion industry. Chuck Konzelman, who is a co-writer/co-director of “Unplanned,” the new film detailing Johnson’s life, said nearly 100 abortion workers have reached out to them in the past few…Continue Reading

Franciscan University president resigns

Steubenville, Ohio, Apr 8, 2019 / 07:50 am (CNA).- Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, has resigned as president of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Fr. Sheridan informed the university’s trustees of his decision during a regular meeting of the board on…Continue Reading

CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY HONORS ABORTION PROPONENT WITH COMMENCEMENT SOAPBOX, DOCTORATE

Alumni of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland and the Cardinal Newman Society are voicing their outrage at the school’s selection of Mark Shriver to deliver the 2019 commencement address while also receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Shriver is president of the Save the…Continue Reading

Emails show Planned Parenthood behind California rule to make churches pay for abortions

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 5, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A 2014 California rule forcing religious groups, including churches, to cover elective abortions for employees was the result of direct pressure from Planned Parenthood, internal emails have shown. On April 4,…Continue Reading

Notre Dame’s Catholic duty

On Wednesday, the LGBT Law Forum at the law school hosted an event featuring Jim Obergefell, Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon, plaintiffs in the Supreme Court caseObergefell v. Hodges, which mandated that every state recognize same-sex marriage. The talk was co-sponsored…Continue Reading

Catholic priests in Poland burn alleged sacrilegious books including ‘Harry Potter,’ condemn magic

Polish Catholic priests condemning magic burned dozens of books they considered to be sacrilegious, including works from the “Harry Potter” series. The SMS from Heaven Foundation – an evangelical group – posted photos of the burning at Gdansk’s Mother of…Continue Reading

Vatican Life Academy: Parents must vaccinate, even if vaccines come from aborted babies

VATICAN CITY, March 26, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In a stunning declaration, the Pontifical Academy for Life — now populated entirely with Pope Francis appointments — has urged parents to vaccinate their children, even if the vaccines are derived from aborted…Continue Reading

Cardinal DiNardo discharged from hospital, expected to make full recovery

Houston, Texas, Mar 21, 2019 / 08:59 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston has been released from the hospital, following a mild stroke last week, his archdiocese announced March 20. The cardinal, who serves as president of the U.S.…Continue Reading

Montreal priest stabbed at Mass ‘eager’ to return

Montreal, Canada, Mar 23, 2019 / 03:19 pm (CNA).- Father Claude Grou is out of the hospital and grateful for the groundswell of support he received after he was stabbed by an assailant while celebrating a televised Mass at St.…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Discriminating Mercy: Defending Christ And His Church With True Love

Cburke3

  By DON FIER (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., graciously took time out of his busy schedule to grant The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to the Shrine. Included among the topics…Continue Reading

Developing Lives Of Peace After The Heart Of Mary

By RAYMOND LEO CARDINAL BURKE (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke delivered the address below at the 32nd Annual Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World,” Galt House, Louisville, Ky., July 22, 2017. The address is reprinted here with the kind permission of Cardinal Burke. All rights reserved. This is part one of the…Continue Reading

Catechism

Tickets For Life

Today . . .

Cardinal Tobin: Catechism language ‘very unfortunate’ on homosexuality

Newark, N.J., Apr 18, 2019 / 10:54 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Newark said Wednesday that the language used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe homosexual acts is “very unfortunate,” adding that he hopes the Catechism will use different language in its discussion of homosexuality. “The Church, I think, is having its own conversation about what our faith has us do and say with people in relationships that are same-sex. What should…Continue Reading

Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral goes up in flames

PARIS, April 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Paris authorities are battling a fire in the city’s Notre Dame cathedral that broke out Monday, producing massive plumes of smoke billowing from the historic Catholic site. Authorities have cleared the area surrounding the cathedral as they battle flames “leap[ing] out besides its two bell towers,” NBC News reports. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has requested that passersby steer clear of the vicinity until further

Medical students in Africa outraged over U.S. based org enticing them to become abortionists

UGANDA, April 12, 2019, LifeSiteNews – A U.S. based pro-abortion group that misleadingly calls itself “Catholics for Choice” is enticing unsuspecting medical students in Africa’s most vibrant Catholic countries to become not only abortion promoters but even abortionists, according to medical students who attended a workshop hosted by the organization. Ugandan medical students recently became troubled when they realized too late that a seminar about “reproductive he

Full text of Benedict XVI essay: ‘The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse’

popeben

Vatican City, Apr 10, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- The following is a previously unpublished essay from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: On February 21 to 24, at the invitation of Pope Francis, the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences gathered at the Vatican to discuss the current crisis of the faith and of the Church; a crisis experienced throughout the world after shocking revelations of clerical abuse perpetrated against minors. The extent and gravity of…Continue Reading

“Unplanned” Movie Stays in Top 10 With Surprisingly Strong 2nd Week at Box Office

The pro-life movie “Unplanned” finished in the Top 10 after a surprisingly strong 8th place finish at the box office this weekend. The film, which opened in theaters nationwide last week, follows the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who became pro-life after watching a baby be aborted on an ultrasound screen. Despite a media blackout, a ‘R’ rating designed to discourage viewers and little coverage outside conservative media circles, “Unplanned” opened in 4th…Continue Reading

Advertisement(2)

Memento Mori… The Danger Of Being Ultra-Nice

By DONALD DeMARCO A man wakes up in his nice apartment and, while having a nice cup of coffee, is told by a nice radio voice that the weather will be nice. He drives his nice car through his nice neighborhood and is wished a nice day, verbally by the teller at the bank and…Continue Reading

A Book Review… A Renaissance Man Looks At Human Worth

By JUDE DOUGHERTY Manetti, Giannozzo. On Human Worth and Excellence. Edited and translated by Brian P. Copenhaver; Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press, I Tatti Renaissance Library, pp LI + 362. One does not have to be a Renaissance historian or know much medieval philosophy or theology to appreciate this delightful book. On Human Worth and…Continue Reading

Dispute Over Papal Foundation’s $25 Million Grant Approval Continues

By KEVIN JONES VATICAN CITY (CNA) — Scrutiny continues for the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, amid questions of whether some of its grant activity was motivated by a desire to secure leniency for disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The ongoing controversy surrounds the foundation’s decision to make an unprecedented grant to a leading Italian hospital whose…Continue Reading

First Time In 300 Years… Rome’s Holy Stairs Are Uncovered

By HANNAH BROCKHAUS ROME (CNA) — The bare, white marble of Rome’s “Scala Sancta,” which are believed to be the stairs trod by Christ on the day of His trial and death, are now exposed and visible to pilgrims for the first time in almost 300 years. The stairs, encased in wood since the 1700s,…Continue Reading

A Book Review . . . St. Peter Of Alcantara Tells Us How To Pray And Meditate

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY Treatise on Prayer and Meditation, by St. Peter of Alcantara (212 pages, TAN Books & Publishers Inc., paperback and Kindle). Visit www.tanbooks.com, or call 1-800-437-5876. St. Peter of Alcantara (1499-1562) was born in Spain, and became a Franciscan friar in a strict observance friary. He was ordained in 1524, and went…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: It is easy to get discouraged at the state of the Church these days, particularly at the decline in the number of Religious sisters from 181,000 in 1965 to about 47,000 today, which Fr. George Rutler blames partly on those orders which “accepted bad advice from misguided and misguiding theologians and leaders. Bishops often have been at fault,…Continue Reading

Holy Father . . . Approves Decrees Regarding Eight Candidates For Sainthood

By DEBORAH CASTELLANO LUBOV ROME (ZENIT) — Pope Francis on April 6 received in audience Angelo Cardinal Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. During the audience, the Supreme Pontiff authorized the same congregation to promulgate the decrees regarding: — The miracle attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Donizetti Tavares de Lima, diocesan…Continue Reading

Faith In The Person Of Jesus

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Easter Sunday (YR C) Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Col. 3:1-4 John 20:1-9 Today we celebrate the most important day in the Church’s year. We know our Lord told His disciples that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and so enter into His glory. St. Peter speaks of this in the first reading and also…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… Benedict XVI: “God Is Absent”

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Benedict XVI released a statement in German last week on the abuse crisis (see text elsewhere in this issue). It shows the extent of the crisis that, although he seeks to live in prayer and contemplation, he has chosen to speak out on this topic with the okay from Pope Francis. People are craving clear…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: For those parents and grandparents looking for good advice on how to educate children and young people about the tough moral issues of the day, may we recommend the book Made This Way by Leila Miller and Trent Horn. The chapter headings deal with Sex Outside of Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage, Divorce, Contraception, Abortion, Reproductive Technologies, Modesty, Pornography, Transgender…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Peter Of St. Joseph De Betancur

By CAROLE BRESLIN The Catholic Church is the largest provider of health care in the world. As of 2013, more than 40,000 hospitals, clinics, and homes for the elderly were run by the Catholic Church throughout the world. The pioneering work of many devout saints for centuries provided care for the sick and the homeless. To care for the sick…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Hugh The Great

By CAROLE BRESLIN In the 11th century, over 150 years before St. Francis of Assisi received the order from our Lord to “repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin,” the secular rulers sought to control the appointment of bishops, abbots, and even the Pope. During this period of simony and conflict, St. Hugh the Great entered…Continue Reading