Friday, 21 August 2009

Let's confess!

A very nasty case that is before the courts at the moment of alleged sexual abuse by a former Anglican priest (see here for The Australian's report) reminds us all that the ground has shifted in the reporting of these matters.
There is a bizarre caricature that alleged perpetrators might "confess" their sins to an authority figure and thus render the matter confidential. In an Adelaide court 'Archbishop' John Hepworth, a former Roman Catholic priest, and then Anglican priest...but now the leader of one of the many splinter groups (see here for a former blog about this) formed in the reaction to a whole range of issues...particularly the ordination fo women to the priesthood...
Any way Hepworth gave testimony at the trial revealing details of a phone conversation which once upon a time might have been considered privileged. I do not need to go into the nastiness of it here.
What is now the case is that people (by and large) cannot now claim that any conversation with a priest is 'confession' by definition.
To be covered under 'the seal of the confessional' the matter must be a deliberate and intentional confession, stated to be so before the event and not afterwards.
Some of the Anglican Church's guidelines (I don't know about Hepworth's mob...) suggest that in matters to do with child abuse that the 'seal' no longer holds any way. This has yet to be tested, but there is some sympathy with the idea that mandatory notification now extends into the confessional. (I would find this idea difficult and hope personally that I never have to test it)
This stuff is awful. But I think weare trying to take it seriously.

When, I ask, will the State actually adopt the same scrutiny to schools and institutions that it demands (and rightly) of the Churches.

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