tip off

On confession, where does confidentiality end?

Crikey readers weigh in on the big issues of the day.

Priest confession

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Hollingworth’s holey logic on secrecy of the confessional“ (yesterday). Amanda Gearing is probably right that most Australians would not agree with Peter Hollingworth’s view on the secrecy of the confessional, nevertheless there are some practical and ethical issues that get obscured behind our immediate response to crimes of this nature.

First, if it was generally understood that a priest had a responsibility to report any crime confessed,  surely very few people would confess to such crimes. The church would have a moral (and perhaps legal) responsibility to preface each confession with a warning that “confessions may be monitored for training and quality control purposes”. Breaking the so-called seal is only an option at a time when sins have been previously admitted under assumption of total confidentiality.

Then there is a question of admissible evidence — I’m neither a lawyer nor a Catholic but I thought confessions were not usually conducted face to face so how would a priest identify someone in court?

And where does confidentiality end? If a whistle-blowing priest contacted Amanda Gearing and offered to tell all and name names subject to anonymity, I wonder where would her journalistic ethics would take her. Would she go to jail to protect her sources?

Justin Pettizini writes: Amanda Gearing argues that “the ‘seal of the confessional’ has, for far too long, been used as an excuse for failing to report crimes by priests and church workers against children to police”. She gives absolutely no evidence for this assertion. She gives no evidence of even a single case of confession being used as “an excuse for failing to report crimes … against children to police”.  In fact it is hard to see how any such evidence could exist unless either a priest or a confessing abuser of children later admitted the content of that confession and that the priest did nothing about it because of the “seal of the confessional”.

No such admission has been tendered in any of the extensive public discussion since the calling of the royal commission. Gearing’s quoting of Bishop Hollingworth’s letter has nothing at all to do with confession. He was made aware of this abuse in ways other than confession. He did not claim that the “seal of the confessional” prevented him from reporting it.

He didn’t report it because, as the letter explains, he thought that taking action would “make things worse for [the abuser] and the Church”.  This is the real problem. The royal commission should deal with getting priests to report to police abuse of which they are aware  rather than wasting any significant energy on what is probably a non-existent problem relating to confession.

Liberal women

Beryce Nelson writes: Re. (tips and rumours, yesterday). What is more interesting is that the two excellent female candidates have been placed last and second last on the Senate ticket, both completely unwinnable positions.

Sadly, it seems that the powerbrokers in today’s federal Liberal Party still pine for the 1950s. In making their decisions for positions on the ticket in Queensland perhaps they should have taken a little more heed of the outcome of the US presidential election and how the results played out there.

Gillard/AWU

Moira Smith writes: Re. “The mechanics of how a smear campaign was legitimised” (yesterday). Message to Tony Abbott: I am sick of hearing your attacks on Julia Gillard (and I’m not a Labor voter). And tonight on TV I heard you call her “shrill” at least twice in one sentence. That’s misogynist-speak (I’m commanding — he’s insistent — she’s shrill). Is Julie Bishop “shrill” when she speaks on your behalf?

You’ll never get my vote but you could at least earn my respect. But I suppose for you I’m one of the 47% that doesn’t matter.

I pray that you and your colleagues on both sides of the House (I don’t have many problems with those in between) will adopt compassion, forgiveness and a spirit of cooperation to address the real problems that face us all.

Venise Alstergren writes: It is almost the end of the parliamentary year, but not one question was asked by Julie Bishop in question time about anything on the national agenda.

Any questions about the abuse of army personnel; the upcoming royal commission into child abuse; the Murray-Darling Basin law about to take place; not even the usual nagging about so-called “illegal refugees”?

Womens Agenda

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