Ireland’s Child Abuse Bill Sparks Debate against Priests and Confession

The New Children First Bill 2014, released in Ireland on April 14, 2014, included the demand to the clergy to comply and report child abuse confessions for the welfare and protection of children.

The Confessional where conversation between man and God is top secret. (Photo: JoeQ/

The Confessional where conversation between man and God is top secret. (Photo: JoeQ/

The Church says no.

Fr. Gearoid O Donnchu responded that the church would do everything it could to protect a child, but never to break the seal [of confession].

The Priest/Penitent Privilege Law mandates that anything said to a priest during confession couldn’t be used against the person, or even mentioned, in any legal matters.

In addition, the Roman Canon Law itemized that the Seal of Confession is unbreakable (Can 983.1), that the priest cannot use the knowledge acquired from confession (Can 984.1), and that the priest who violates will be excommunicated (Can 1388.1).

Ultimately, as part of the guarantee of religious freedom, the article, Seal of Confession and Child Abuse, quantifies that God’s laws supersede any civil laws.

This debate sparked divergent opinions from concerned citizens.

Peter Ferguson, a skeptic and a writer, wrote that the Church might believe that the seal of confession is sanctified; however, the most sacred aspect in any civilized society is the protection of children. He said, ” the fact that the Church refuses to break the seal of confession to aid abused children is immoral, and detrimental to the well-being of children.”

Fr. Alphonsus Hermes, O. Praem (Photo: St MIchael's Abbey)

Fr. Alphonsus Hermes, O. Praem (Photo: St MIchael’s Abbey)

In the same article, Fr. Chris Hayden, defended that the promise of confidentiality actually puts the priest in a position to encourage people to take steps towards healing…that might lead to full disclosure. Ferguson refuted nonetheless, that the argument is predicated on an unproven assumption.

“The seal is essential, so that people will seek spiritual help, knowing that their secrets are safe with the priest, even if it involves a crime they may have done,” said Fr. Alphonus Hermes, O. Praem, a Norbertine priest from St. Michael’s Abbey, in Silverado, Calif. “The grace they received may enlighten them to report their acts to authorities as part of their repentance and reconciliation with God.”

In another Catholic forum, a blogger identified as “Alice in R&S Land”, nevertheless agreed, that the “seal” is for the greater good. She said: “The Church is in the business of saving souls, not saving lives. Who would go to confession if priests were allowed to reveal what was said?”

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Montclair, Calif. (Photo: JoeQ/

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Montclair, Calif.
(Photo: JoeQ/

This debate has been going on since the medieval period. The Church consistently stood firm that society may have changed, but its mission and beliefs remain the same.

“During confession, the priest acts in place of Jesus, and the person actually talks to God himself through the priest,” said Catalina Molina, a catechist from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Montclair, Calif. “The content belongs to God, and not with the priest…that is why nothing can be said.

“The priest knows that the conversation is very sacred, and it has to be safeguarded with absolute confidentiality,” said Molina. “He has to die with it, period.”

© 2014 Joe Quintana


Author: Joe Quintana, M.A. | Multimedia Journalist
Editor-in-Chief at Journalism for the Soul
Master of Arts - Multimedia Journalism.