Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Upholding the seal

Most Anglican priests don't hear many Confessions, perhaps three or four a year. I suspect most Roman Catholic priests don't hear as many as they used to and there are all sorts of reasons for this.
Most Confessions I hear happen after a an intimate counselling conversation in which someone may be distressed about something they have done wrong.
I would then often say "Well should we pray for forgiveness?"
And most times we do. It is not always/usually formal...and it is not about sin it is about forgiveness.
I  think Confession is a good thing, and often remark that we would be worse off without it.
I sometimes say "Imagine how awful it would be if there was no forgiveness and we arrived at the end of our life, or at a funeral and nothing but nothing had been dealt with."
That sometimes happen.  But most of us realise that we cannot live our lives without at least a modicum of forgiveness.

There are of course lots of places people now go to, and people they see  that are the modern day confessional and confessors respectively.
We would call them doctors, counsellors, psychologists. Sometimes they go to a priest.
It seems to me, on the whole, that it is good to have a place where people can go with some assurance of confidentiality. And it is a serious burden and responsibility that priests, doctors, counsellors and others carry.
I think the world would be worse off if there was nowhere people could go.

So the recent focus on Confession which centres around the hypothetical idea What would happen if a pedophile confessed to a priest? Would/Should the priest break the seal of confessional?  is of some passing interest to us.

And then to move on Should a priest be compelled by law to break the seal?

All this begs the question of whether or not this might happen.
I personally can't imagine that it would.
(There is a scene in the Ken Loach film Priest where a father who abuses his daughter, deliberately goes to confession to stop the priest concerned being able to report him to the police
...but that all seems to me to be a scenario concocted for the screen and not a reality.)

There are all sorts of things that might happen in the Confessional that are more meaningful than the simplistic nonsense that is being touted by a press that seems to think that paedophiles are lining up to unlikely scenario at best.
(There is a very good article about it here by the smoothly articulate Waleed Aly...a must read for those seeking genuine reflection on this issue)

He makes a very telling comment

The confessional seal means the priest cannot reveal the identity of the paedophile. But he can encourage the paedophile to turn himself in to the authorities or get psychiatric treatment. He could recommend the paedophile resign from his position. He can even warn a third party that a particular child is at risk of abuse, provided he doesn't say from whom. Sure, that's not as satisfying as taking a sledgehammer to the abuser. (my emphasis) But it's surely better than nothing, which is probably the alternative. I would rather the confession take place confidentially than not at all.

Aly is at least suggesting that we should look at the issue rather more seriously. I would agree

Waleed Aly is at least suggesting that we should not be quite so hysterical, but more measured in our assessment of what is happening...he is right that this is not as satisfying as taking a sledgehammer...but nor is that an appropriate response

I'll talk a little bit more in the next few days about how a Confessor might handle such things....but I would be interested in your response. Either in the comments sections or by email

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