Once again: the dispute between the Catholic Church and the Irish government has reached a new climax. A bill by Attorney General Alan Shatter provides the latest tightening up.
Under politician's plan, clergy must in future report any suspicion of child abuse to police, even if knowledge of it was gained in confession. Priests to face up to five years in prison for non-compliance.
Since the release of the investigative report into abuse cases in the Diocese of Cloyne on 13. July, church-state relations in Catholic Ireland are at an all-time low. The Cloyne report examined allegations against 19 clergy members made between 1996 and 2009. With the exception of two cases, the events took place between 1930 and 1990. The report criticized the fact that the majority of abuse cases were not reported to civilian authorities. On the very day of publication, Shatter introduced his bill.
Primate defends seal of confession
Conservative Prime Minister Enda Kenny also reacted: shortly after the publication of the report, he criticized the Vatican in unusually sharp words in a speech to parliament. Church-state relations in Ireland 'may not be the same' after revelations, Kenny says. Among other things, the politician accused the Vatican of letting the prosecution of crimes in Ireland go nowhere until 2008. He said the "raping and torturing of children has been downplayed" in order to save the institution's reputation.
In the diplomatic crisis that followed, Shatter's bill was all but forgotten until the Irish Catholic primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, defended the seal of confession in strong terms in a homily last Sunday.
In it, Brady stressed the importance of the "sacred and guarded" rite of confession. Any proposal that undermines the sanctity of the seal of confession is against "the right of every Catholic to freedom of religion and conscience". Monday, the Vatican voiced its support for Cardinal. "The Catholic Church in no way renounces the seal of confession," Vatican deputy spokesman Ciro Benedettini stressed.
The Irish Department of Justice reacted promptly: On the same day, a spokeswoman said the planned law would be implemented without regard to "internal rules of religious groups". The government is determined to pass the bill as early as the next legislative session, he said. "Precisely because so many suspected cases went unreported in the past, sex offenders were lulled into a sense of security and thus encouraged even more to continue abusing children," the spokesperson said.
"More likely to go to jail"
Irish Family Affairs Minister Frances Fitzgerald also reiterated to public broadcaster RTE that she intends to enforce the new mandatory reporting of suspected abuse in all organizations that work with children. Fitzgerald had already explicitly stated in July that mandatory reporting should not stop at the confessional.
The plans threaten to exacerbate the crisis between the Catholic Church and the Irish government. A priest from Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Paddy O "Kane, told the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday that the island's Catholic clergy would rather go to prison than break the seal of confession.
"Of course, the protection of children must be ensured, but without the recognition of the special relationship of trust between priest and confessor, a clergyman can no longer properly exercise his ministry," he said. Unlike Republican Ireland, the seal of confession is respected throughout the world, O "Kane said. Fortunately, even in his Northern Ireland diocese, which falls under British law, he said.