Saturday 28th January 2023

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

House Republicans approved 2 #ProLife measures.

The first measure would ban #Abortion on babies born alive and require the babies be given medical care and treatment. The other measure condemned a spurt of growing attacks against crisis pregnancy centers.

House Republicans Pass Pro-Life Bills

House Republicans on Jan. 11 approved two pro-life measures. The first measure passed by the House would ban abortion ...

www.theepochtimes.com

"I'm afraid that the West will die. There are plenty of signs. You are invaded,still,by other cultures & peoples,who will progressively dominate you by their numbers and change your culture, your convictions, your morality."~ Cardinal Robert Sarah

Load More...

Vatican and USCCB leave transgender policy texts unpublished

While U.S. bishops have made headlines for releasing policies addressing gender identity and pastoral ministry, guidelines on the subject have been drafted but not published by both the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s doctrinal office, leaving diocesan bishops to…Continue Reading

Biden says Pope Francis told him to continue receiving communion, amid scrutiny over pro-abortion policies

President Biden said that Pope Francis, during their meeting Friday in Vatican City, told him that he should continue to receive communion, amid heightened scrutiny of the Catholic president’s pro-abortion policies.  The president, following the approximately 90-minute-long meeting, a key…Continue Reading

Federal judge rules in favor of Gov. DeSantis’ mask mandate ban

MIAMI (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge this week handed Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis another legal victory on his mask mandate ban for schools. On Wednesday, Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida denied a petition from…Continue Reading

The Eucharist should not be received unworthily, says Nigerian cardinal

Priests have a duty to remind Catholics not to receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin and to make confession easily available, a Nigerian cardinal said at the International Eucharistic Congress on Thursday. “It is still the doctrine…Continue Reading

Donald Trump takes a swipe at Catholics and Jews who did not vote for him

Donald Trump complained about Catholics and Jews who did not vote for him in 2020. The former president made the comments in a conference call featuring religious leaders. The move could be seen to shore up his religious conservative base…Continue Reading

Y Gov. Kathy Hochul Admits Andrew Cuomo Covered Up COVID Deaths, 12,000 More Died Than Reported

When it comes to protecting people from COVID, Andrew Cuomo is already the worst governor in America. New York has the second highest death rate per capita, in part because he signed an executive order putting COVID patients in nursing…Continue Reading

Prayers For Cardinal Burke . . . U.S. Cardinal Burke says he has tested positive for COVID-19

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke said he has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. In an Aug. 10 tweet, he wrote: “Praised be Jesus Christ! I wish to inform you that I have recently…Continue Reading

Democrats Block Amendment Banning Late-Term Abortions, Stopping Abortions Up to Birth

Senate Democrats have blocked an amendment that would ban abortions on babies older than 20 weeks. During consideration of the multi-trillion spending package, pro-life Louisiana Senator John Kennedy filed an amendment to ban late-term abortions, but Democrats steadfastly support killing…Continue Reading

Transgender student wins as U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs bathroom appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to a transgender former public high school student who waged a six-year legal battle against a Virginia county school board that had barred him from using the bathroom corresponding…Continue Reading

New York priest accused by security guard of assault confirms charges have now been dropped

NEW YORK, June 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A New York priest has made his first public statement regarding the dismissal of charges against him.  Today Father George W. Rutler reached out to LifeSiteNews and other media today with the following…Continue Reading

21,000 sign petition protesting US Catholic bishops vote on Biden, abortion

More than 21,000 people have signed a letter calling for U.S. Catholic bishops to cancel a planned vote on whether President Biden should receive communion.  Biden, a Catholic, supports abortion rights and has long come under attack from some Catholics over that…Continue Reading

Bishop Gorman seeks candidates to fill two full time AP level teaching positions for the 2021-2022 school year in the subject areas of Calculus/Statistics and Physics

Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Regional Catholic School is a college preparatory school located in Tyler, Texas. It is an educational ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler led by Bishop Joseph Strickland. The sixth through twelfth grade school provides a…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

Catechism

Today . . .

Catholic journalist George Neumayr dies in Africa

COTE D’IVOIRE (LifeSiteNews) – George Neumayr, an author and journalist who fearlessly exposed corruption in the Catholic Church, died of malaria last night. He was 50. He had been in Africa since December 26, 2022, studying Christianity there and “what the Church in the West could learn from it, both good and bad,” according to his journalism fund updates and several articles he wrote from the former French colony.

Cardinal Müller slams Pope Francis’ ‘political’ laicization of Fr. Pavone

ROME (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller strongly defended Fr. Frank Pavone and slammed Pope Francis’ laicization of the renowned pro-life priest in an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews. Cardinal Müller, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the top Vatica

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dies at Age 95

Funeral Mass to be held January 5.

Cardinals block appointment of Heiner Wilmer as Prefect of the DDF

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith who was still in office, had received his mandate in an unexpected way in the summer of 2017. Until then, the Spanish Jesuit had been secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, i.e. the right hand of the prefect. At the time, the prefect was still Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former bishop of Regensburg, whom Pope Benedict XVI had appointed…Continue Reading

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

Neither Left Nor Right, But Catholic . . . Bold Steps Needed To Address Illegal Immigration

By STEPHEN M. KRASON One of the ways in which the rule of law has been utterly flouted by the Biden administration has been its unwillingness to seriously enforce U.S. immigration law. In fact, the current crisis at the southern border is largely due to Biden’s signaling, as soon as he took office, that people…Continue Reading

McCarrick’s Lawyers Say He’s Not Competent To Stand Trial

By JOE BUKURAS MDEDHAM, Mass. (CNA) — Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick is in “significant” mental decline and may not be fit to stand trial for allegedly sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy, his attorneys say in a new court filing. The legal team for the 92-year-old ex-prelate said it plans to file a motion to dismiss…Continue Reading

Pregnancy Is Not A Disease… No One Could Observe This In Contemporary America

By R.T. NEARY “Follow the science” has been the mandate since 2019 in this once-united nation that is still officially entitled The United States of America. “Experts” have been featured on TV screens voicing this as Gospel.Public dialogue has centered on the reality of a threat posed by a living organism present in our environment.…Continue Reading

Death Of Cardinal George Pell

By RAYMOND CARDINAL BURKE With the sudden death of Cardinal George Pell, the Church has lost the earthly company of a wise, loving, joyful, and courageous shepherd. I have lost the earthly company of a good friend and example in the Sacred College of Cardinals. Having visited at length with Cardinal Pell on the afternoon…Continue Reading

Joining The Communion Of Saints

By DONALD DeMARCO Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987) was truly a Renaissance woman. She won a seat in Congress and held an ambassadorship. She was the managing editor of Vanity Fair. As an author, her writings extended from drama and screen scenarios to fiction, journalism, and war reportage. As a pro-life stalwart, she wrote for The…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Q. When Joseph and Mary came to the inn in Bethlehem, the innkeeper said that there was no room and told them to “go on.” That night an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in his dream and said, “It is you who shall go on and on.” Is this true? — J.B., Pennsylvania.A. Not according to the Gospel…Continue Reading

New Book By Ganswein On BXVI

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Part 2 Upon his death we shared the witness that Pope Benedict lived in the words he uttered. Archbishop Georg Ganswein’s book Nothing But the Truth recounting his life with the great Pope is now out in bookstores. Here I share some vignettes of that volume from an advance unofficial English translation.In October 1978 the…Continue Reading

Basics Of Christian Anthropology

By MSGR. CHARLES POPE Part 1 (Editor’s Note: Msgr. Charles Pope posted this article on January 13 and it is reprinted here with permission.) + + Anthropology is, most simply, the science or study of human beings through time and space. Different specialties focus on the analysis of biological/physiological characteristics and the examination of societies/cultures. In the religious sense, anthropology…Continue Reading

Grace And Humility

BY FR. ROBERT ALTIER Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR A) Readings: Zeph. 2:3, 3:12-131 Cor. 1:26-31Matt. 5:1-12a In the first reading today, the Lord calls all the humble of the Earth to seek Him. Interestingly, He then calls them to seek justice and humility with the hope that they would be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: This series on the Bible is from the book Catholicism & Scripture. Please feel free to use the series for high schoolers or adults. We will continue to welcome your questions for the column as well. See the contact information at the end of this column. Special Course On Catholicism And Scripture (Chapter 11) Following the path of…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Peter Damian

By DEB PIROCH For those in search of a night free of insomnia, it’s said those with a clean conscience sleep blissfully. Yet, many of us know it is not quite that easy to vanquish insomnia and in truth, the longer one tries, the less one is inclined to fall sleep. At the least it can be exhausting, at the…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Dunstan

By DEB PIROCH Before St. Thomas Becket, the saint most likely to be invoked by an Englishman was St. Dunstan. He was successively appointed the abbot of Glastonbury, the bishop of Worcester, the bishop of London, archbishop of Canterbury and later, the bishop of Winchester. Additionally, he was related to at least one archbishop and three bishops; perhaps being a…Continue Reading

Advertisement(2)