Cardinal George Pell addressing the media on the Royal Commission into child abuse (video from abc.net.au — 1’18″)
I’ve written on this before: here. The raw transcript of the video, with some side comments, can be found here. Just remember in reading this that accused priests can be innocent up to 50% of the time. See The Judas Crisis series on the sidebar of the blog: http://holysoulshermitage.com. The Cardinal’s policy is that no suspected priest is to be allowed to go to confession, ever. A comment came in reprimanding me thinking that the Cardinal’s policy referred to more than himself hearing the confessions of priests. This is what pushed me to write this fisked version of the Cardinal’s comments.
As I’ve said before, the most hateful thing a person can do is to remove someone for life from the possibility of going to confession. The quickest way to do this to a priest is to accuse him. From that instant, regardless of innocence or guilt, that priest is forever removed from the possibility of going to confession, at least in the Archdiocese of Sydney, though this is surely the case now in all of Australia.
The reason why I insist on reporting about this is that Archbishop George Pell is a Cardinal member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He is well able to suggest this as a policy for the entire Church. In fact, a world-wide policy is now in the works over at the CDF.
* * *
Here’s the transcript with my [comments]:
Reporter 1: Cardinal Pell, can you tell us what the protocol is now in the Catholic Church for priests that might confess to another priest of abuse.
[Note that this is, from the get go, not about Bishops hearing confessions of priests, but about priests hearing the confessions of priests.]
Cardinal Pell: Uh if uh if that’s done outside the confessional… [Holding up the rest of the answer in the form of the policy statement on abuse by the Archdioces of Sydney]
Reporter 1: No, if it’s done in the confessional.
Cardinal Pell: Well, you know the answer to that as well as I. The seal of con…
Reporter 1: Well, how do you articulate it?
Cardinal Pell: The seal of confession is inviolable.
Reporter 1: So, if a priest confesses to another priest that he has abused a child…
Cardinal Pell: The seal of confession is inviolable, for murders…
[Up to this point, the whole conversation is about priests confessing to priests. But now let’s see what happens...]
Reporter 2: Could I put that question a slightly different way?
Cardinal Pell: Mmm-hmm [Yes].
Reporter 2: What would your advice be to the priest receiving confession from a priest who has a confession like that to offer? Should should such a priest hear that confession?
[So, the priests-confessing-to-priests line of thought is reinforced with another question about whether or not a priest should hear the confession of another priest. This, again, is not about knowledge that comes to the confessor by way of confession, but outside of confession in whatever way. The question presumes that certain guilt is known to the would-be confessor. The would-be confessor would be an eye witness catching the offender in the abuse. The question presumes that the reason for the confession is known to the would-be confessor. The confessor would be asked outside of confession by the offender for an appointment to confess the abuse which he mentions openly, since the would-be confessor caught him in the act. The purpose of the question in the press conference is to investigate the effects of the absolute seal of confession. In other words, would the abuser sacrilegiously confess, that is, only to make sure that the confessor has his mouth shut by the seal of confession so that the abuser will not be reported by an eyewitness to the abuse? The chances of that happening are – what? – slim to none? But it could happen. The answer is that the would-be confessor, who just witnessed the abuse and who was just asked for an appointment to make a confession by the abuser he just caught... well... that would-be confessor is to do these things in this order:
1. In the first second, knock the abuser unconscious with one’s mobile phone...
2. ...while yelling for help...
3. ...while checking the welfare of the victim, that he or she is not in danger of death right then and there.
4. In the second second, speed dial the police, even while telling the victim that medical help and law enforcement is on the way.
5. In the third second, report the crime and speak of the present circumstances, and that emergency law enforcement and medical help is required.
6. After all that, slap the abuser awake.
7. Then tell the abuser that law enforcement is on the way to check out the situation and that medical help is on the way for the victim.
8. Then, if the abuser asks for confession once again, tell the abuser that he has to understand that what will be told to the police about what was just witnessed is not under the seal of confession, for it was witnessed outside of confession, and that it is that which is being acted upon regardless of any sacramental confession.
9. Then, if the abuser insists on confession anyway, hear the confession.
10. Refuse the absolution if it is obvious that there is no penitence; otherwise, give the absolution.
There is no danger, in all of this, that there be any scandal regarding a breaking of the seal of confession. None.]
Cardinal Pell: If the…
Reporter 2: Or should they refuse to hear that confession?
[Note the change to the plural. In other words, this is not about a particular case, but a policy question about any priest who might receive or not the confession of another priest. And that was clear already.]
Cardinal Pell: That’s uh… That is a good question. If the priest uh knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession.
[Cardinal Pell states that a priest knowing the situation beforehand is to refuse to hear the confession of the other priest, no exceptions, such as that to which I averted just above. Just because something is confessed in the confessional doesn't prohibit acting on knowledge that is gained outside of confession. Also, note that this continues to be about priests and priests.]
Reporter 1: What’s the advice…
Cardinal Pell: [Continuing to answer reporter 2's question:] I, I, I would never… That’s my, would be my advice. And I would never hear the confession of a priest who was suspected of of such a thing.
[The Cardinal begins with “I, I, I would never...” Such an answer does not refer to his own would-be actions as a bishop, for bishops or seminary rectors or any religious superior are not to hear the confessions of subjects. He knows that. The “I, I, I would never...” bit, is, instead – as all English speakers recognize – a modal usage appropriated by the role player who takes on the first person singular for the analogous usage intended, though any application to himself is not possible or intended. It's as much to say: “If I were not a bishop, but rather a simple priest, in that case, I would never...” Far fetched, you say? No. Proof for this analysis comes with the words of the Cardinal himself: “That’s my... would be my advice...” He corrects himself in mid-sentence. This is done to ensure that it is not one particular case he is speaking about, but it is rather a policy that he is setting forth. The advice he is giving to priests is, obviously, not for himself, but for the priests to whom he is giving the advice, to priests who hear the confessions of priests. Right? Yes, that’s right. He is setting forth policy for priests. What is it? He says it clearly: “And I would never hear the confession of a priest who was suspected of of such a thing.” “Suspected.” Just. Wow. After all this, we’re actually NOT talking about an eye witness or a request for an appointment for a confession with the explicitly stated intention of getting an absolution for such a crime. No, no. We’re merely talking about a suspicion. But priests can be accused and go for years, even a lifetime being under suspicion, with their cases never being decided, other than that a settlement is paid out, regardless of his innocence or guilt, just to get the case off the desk of the bishop and, perhaps, on a lark, save a bit of money. Meanwhile, the priest is dead in the water. He may well be totally innocent of such a crime, but he is now thrown out of the priesthood and effectively excommunicated, for it is only when someone is excommunicated that he cannot receive the sacrament of reconciliation. For Cardinal Pell, this is also, effectively, an automatic or latae sententiae excommunication, effective the second any accusation is made, no matter how spurious, or impossible. Guilt or innocence doesn’t matter. Just suspicion. Anyone's suspicion, and therefore, for Cardinal Pell, that which also must be the suspicion of the priest confessor. Someone else’s suspicion makes one dirty, unworthy of living. This is where not just a few priests commit suicide. See The Judas Crisis series of posts collected on the sidebar of the blog: http://holysoulshermitage.com]
Reporter 1: What would the your advice be to a priest confessing to such a crime by the priest hearing the confession?
Cardinal Pell: That can depend on the priest. I, I would hope that he would uh recommend that the law of the country be followed.
* * *
Now then, in order possibly to save a life or two, I would like to point to a story familiar to long time readers of this blog, the story of Saint Francis and Brother Leo. You know the one, on Perfect Joy. When a “suspected” priest, innocent of such a crime, is marginalized from society and the Church, with all his fellow priests, even close friends, and his bishop, and all the chancery officials, now even literally spitting on him, shunning him, calling him names, slandering him, exposing him to the elements where he can likely die under a bridge, that is when, please God, such a priest will learn about the Perfect Joy spoken of by Saint Francis. Behold:
One winter day St. Francis was coming to St. Mary of the Angels from Perugia with Brother Leo, and the bitter cold made them suffer keenly. St. Francis called to Brother Leo, who was walking a bit ahead of him, and he said: “Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor in every country give a great example of holiness and integrity and good edification, nevertheless write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”
And when he had walked on a bit, St. Francis called him again, saying: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is still more, brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that.”
And going on a bit, St. Francis cried out again in a strong voice: “Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages and all sciences and Scripture, if he also knew how to prophesy and to reveal not only the future but also the secrets of the consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”
And as they walked on, after a while St. Francis called again forcefully: ‘Brother Leo, Little Lamb of God, even if a Friar minor could speak with the voice of an angel, and knew the courses of the stars and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if he knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that true joy is not in that.”
And going on a bit farther, St. Francis called again strongly: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that be should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not there.”
Now when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo in great amazement asked him: “Father, I beg you in God’s name to tell me where perfect joy is.”
And St. Francis replied; “When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the Place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: ‘Who are you?’ And we say: ‘We are two of your brothers.’ And he contradicts us, saying: ‘You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!’ And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls — then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that that porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!
‘And if we continue to knock, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying; ‘Get away from here, you dirty thieves! Go to the hospital! Who do you think you are? You certainly won’t eat or sleep here! And if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, Oh, Brother Leo, write that that is perfect joy!
And if later, suffering intensely from hunger and the painful cold, with night falling, we still knock and call, and crying loudly beg them to open for us and let us come in for the love of God, and he grows still more angry and says: ‘Those fellows are bold and shameless ruffians. I’ll give them what they deserve.’ And he comes out with a knotty club, and grasping us by the cowl throws us onto the ground, rolling us in the mud and snow, and beats us with that club so much that he covers our bodies with wounds–if we endure all those evils and insults and blows with joy and patience, reflecting that we must accept and bear the sufferings of the Blessed Christ patiently for love of Him, oh, Brother Leo, write: that is perfect joy!
‘And now hear the conclusion, Brother Leo. Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ. For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God’s, as the Apostle says: ‘What have you that you have not received?’ But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions, because that is ours, and so the Apostle says: ‘I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’”
To whom be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Fathers… If you find yourself accused, read the brief commentary on the last and greatest of beatitudes: here.
* * *
Fathers… Are you accused? You can’t go to Confession? I’ll hear your Confession. And I’ll keep the Seal of Confession.
* * *
Just to be complete, here’s an example of the canon law on ecclesiastical superiors not hearing the confessions of their subjects:
Can. 985 The director and assistant director of novices, and the rector of a seminary or of any other institute of education, are not to hear the sacramental confessions of their students resident in the same house, unless in individual instances the students of their own accord request it.
The reason should be obvious. It is difficult, humanly speaking, to be absolutely uninfluenced by a confession, even subconsciously. But one is not to break the seal of confession. One cannot act on what one hears in confession. By analogy, this would apply to bishops in regard to their hearing the confessions of their own priests. It does not apply to priests hearing the confessions of other priests.
* * *
Again, just to repeat for the umpteenth gazillionth time: The reason to advocate for due process for priests, for the old “innocent until proven guilty” thing, is not just to promote justice, but to protect true victims. When people finally get sick of innocent priests being accused — and they will get fed up — it is then that all victims, including true victims, will not be taken seriously. And that would be bad, wouldn’t it? Yes, very bad indeed.