Monday, December 14, 2009

Confessional Seal versus Duty to Report Crimes

I just attended a play at the Seattle Rep called Equivocation. One aspect of the play is whether a priest who knew of a plot to blow up Parliament through confession should have been punished for not revealing the plot. It reminded me of a controversy several years ago, prior to the Internet. I am foggy on the details, but not the essence of the issue. A priest had taken the confession of a serial murderer but did not turn him in while the man continued murdering women. I believe the case was in Germany. When the man was eventually captured, the fact that the priest had known his identity for some time came to light and their was a great hue and cry against him. There was much discussion about whether laws that required disclosure to the police should or should not apply to priests because that would threaten the sanctity of the confessional.

While I am not decided on the basic issue of whether such disclosures laws should be applied to priests in confessionals, I would like to make one small point against the argument that such laws would threaten the rite of confession.

Clearly such laws would be a threat to the priests, who might be sent to jail. But it seems like an insult to the priests to say the laws would be a threat to the confessional itself. If a priest is willing to allow a continuing string of women to be murdered as the unavoidable price of protecting the confessional, would he be swayed by the fear that he himself might be prosecuted. Do the supporters of the priests believe that they value themselves so much above others? Consider nonviolent civil rights activists who routinely practiced civil disobedience with an expectation that they would suffer the legal consequences.

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