Great men making their authority felt - Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) 2018

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Great men making their authority felt - Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) 2018

The Lord said to the Twelve: “You know how among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt.” The Lord then taught his disciples that the one who wants to be great must learn to the servant of all. This is what is now commonly referred to in the Church as ‘servant leadership’.

Referring to patterns of worldly leadership as the attitude to control and dominate, we are witnessing an example of this in the State Government’s recent release of draft legislation to remove the legal protection for the seal of the confessional with regard to mandatory reporting requirements for priests in relation to child sexual abuse.

One can certainly understand and completely agree with the Government’s commitment to protect children.

It is important to make clear that Christianity was, in fact, the first major religion to explicitly teach about the importance of protecting children from harm. Jesus stated very clearly that those who cause a little one to be harmed will be punished severely at the time of judgement.

The Catholic Church supports all efforts by the government which would have the effect of making children safer in our community.

Seeking to force Catholic priests to break the seal of the confessional in order to report confessions relating to abuse however will not have the effect of making children safer, in fact, we believe it will have the opposite effect.

We know from our own experience and understanding that the sacrament of confession involves a person coming before God through the ministry of a priest. The person accuses themselves of their sins and humbly asks for forgiveness. It is not a counselling session between two human beings but a very sacred meeting between the believer and God, for whom the priest acts. The penitent knows that this moment of facing God honestly is protected by confidentiality, and so that they can open up their conscience in complete freedom.

Without the surety of confidentiality, no one would come to confession and speak about their deepest darkest faults for fear of this being used against them by others. So the first crucial point is that any attempt to force priests to break the seal of what is confessed would essentially destroy the sacrament.

Without the seal of confession very few would come to confession and even if they did come would not confess anything serious. There would therefore be nothing for the priest to report. This of course fundamentally undermines the Government’s whole purpose in seeking to impose mandatory reporting.

If those seeking confession know that anything they confess might be reported to police, why wouldn’t they go directly to police and report it themselves? There is no logic in the argument for forcing priests to break the seal of confession.

The other critical problem is that any attempt to remove confidentiality would discourage people from going to confession. This could actually led to greater harm within the community. 

The very nature and purpose of the sacrament of confession is to help the individual change their life and stop committing acts that harm themselves and others. The strict confidentiality of confession allows, like no other practice, the person to fully confront and consider the things they may have done. The priest is then obligated to work with them to help them change their ways.

It is important to note that while the priest cannot reveal what sins are confessed during the sacrament, absolution from the sins confessed is conditional on the penitent’s genuine contrition. They must be truly sorrowful and seek to make amends for their actions. They must genuinely be committed to turning away from sinful acts.

The priest will also require the penitent to make some act of restitution for past acts for the sake of justice and impose a penance to assist them in them in the reform of their life. There can be no doubt that over the last 1500 years in which the Sacrament of Confession has existed much as we know it today, that it has done tremendous good in turning around to lives of many and thus preventing human suffering.

The Catholic people can be assured that priests will not comply with such a law. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirming this position teaches that:
Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal”, because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed" by the sacrament. (CCC 1467)

If this law is passed, the Church on this issue will stand outside the law. This will create a new situation for us. Obedience to God must come before obedience to men.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, October 21, 2018