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A priest was punished for saying clergy should report sex abuse confessions
Rev. James E. Connell put the safety of children over the confessions of abusers. Now the Catholic Church won't allow him to hear any confessions.
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A Catholic priest will no longer be allowed to hear confessions after he made the grave mistake of suggesting priests should report confessions involving child abuse to local authorities.
As it stands, if someone walks into a confessional booth and admits to molesting a child, the priest doesn’t have to do anything with that information. Just say a couple of Hail Marys and be done with it. (Compare that to public school teachers, who are required by law to tell a social worker (or someone similar) if they learn about, or suspect, a child being abused.)
Why won’t they agree to report suspected abusers? Vatican officials have long claimed that the “seal of confession” is sacrosanct. Anything said in a confessional booth must be kept secret no matter what. If there’s any potential that the “clergy-penitent privilege” might be broken—and that certain confessions may be used as evidence against the confessor—it could destroy the very nature of the sacrament.
That leads to absurd consequences.
In Australia, for example, one priest confessed to committing 1,500 acts of molestation (not a typo) to 30 separate priests over the course of 25 years. Because of the sacred seal, though, no one ever reported his crimes, allowing the abuse to continue.
Right now, in Delaware, there’s a proposed bill (HB 74) that that would break the sacramental seal. It would require priests to “report child abuse and neglect” that they learn about during confession. (More specifically, it would eliminate the exemption that currently exists for priests.)
If you care about children, this is a straightforward, common sense bill. There’s no reason Catholic priests, of all people, should be allowed to keep their knowledge of child abuse secret because of their religious beliefs.
The Catholic Church, of course, doesn’t care about children. Or at least the sacrament of confession is more important to them than the safety of kids.
Bishop William Koenig, who oversees the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, told NBC10 his diocese works hard in every way to protect children. He also said the proposed bill was “non-negotiable” however.
“For a priest to break the seal of confession, he would be excommunicated,” Bishop Koenig said. “That could only be lifted by the Pope.”
That’s the sort of selfish statement that deserves to be ridiculed and criticized. Koenig believes a priest getting excommunicated is more damning than a child getting molested. He would rather protect priests than kids. So, no, the diocese is not working hard in every way to protect children.
That comment is why it was a breath of fresh air when Rev. James E. Connell, a retired priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, wrote an opinion piece in the Delaware News Journal calling for the “clergy-penitent privilege” exemption to be repealed.
Unquestionably, secrets have a proper place in our lives. But, if secrets contribute to the abuse or neglect of a minor, that form of secrecy is immoral and detrimental to the common good of the society.
As a result, governments should intervene such that, while perhaps frustrating the free exercise of religion for some people, the greater good of protecting children from abuse or neglect would be enhanced for the common good of all people. Our society should protect children, rather than protecting culprits.
That’s the sensible reaction. My religious beliefs are important but not at the expense of kids getting abused.
It was also a predictable article because Connell (a.k.a. Father Jim) has long been an advocate for victims of sex abuse. (I should point out that, in 2009, Connell was accused of covering up abuse in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, but the archdiocese denied it and the allegation didn’t appear to go beyond that.)
In any case, Connell has now been punished for publishing that piece supporting the Delaware bill. On Wednesday, the Archbishop of Milwaukee said Connell would no longer be allowed to hear confessions:
The false assertions of Father James Connell have caused understandable and widespread unrest among the People of God, causing them to question if the privacy of the confessional can now be violated, by him or any other Catholic priest.
I have informed Father James Connell that effective immediately he is to cease all such erroneous communications that distort the teachings of the Church about the confessional seal. I have also immediately removed the canonical faculties of Father Connell to validly celebrate the Sacrament of Confession and to offer absolution, here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and thereby also in the Catholic Church around the world.
To put that bluntly, Connell is being punished because he can’t be trusted to put abusers over their victims like the Catholic Church requires. It’s an astonishing admission of the Vatican’s priorities. Sure, they say they want to protect kids, but their belief in magic is far more important!
As if that weren’t enough, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki closed his message with a paragraph that says they want to protect kids HOWEVER….
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee remains fully committed to the protection of all people from acts of abuse and neglect. However, our commitment to this protection in no way allows us to endorse or advocate for any practice, policy, or legislative action that would threaten the inviolable nature of the confessional seal, and the clergy-penitent privilege.
An atheist couldn’t have written that script any better.
As it stands, Wisconsin happens to be one of the states where priests are allowed to keep confessions of abuse secret:
Wisconsin is among 33 states with laws that protect conversations between clergy and penitents, or those confessing their sins, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Six states have laws that require clergy to report cases of abuse no matter what.
On Friday, Connell responded to his punishment during a press conference in which he doubled down on the side of victims:
"If you're not confessing something [regarding] abusing and neglecting kids, what do [you] got to worry about?" Connell said. "Let's remove the obstacle of confidentiality so that police and law enforcement can do their jobs."
Connell on Friday was not sure what would happen to him next. He believes Listecki could penalize him for continuing to speak out on the issue after being ordered to stop.
"I will not keep quiet. I will not be silent," Connell said. "This is all too important."
At least someone in the Church gives a damn. The same cannot be said of the people who care more about rigid dogma than the scourge of child abuse. It’s a horrible look for Catholic leaders to say they have some faith-based right to cover up their knowledge of molestation, possibly allowing it to happen again.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)
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