Confession and Secular Law


#1

I am wondering whether the granting of forgiveness for a sin which breaches a serious criminal law should require the penitent to surrender himself/herself to the civil authorities. For example, if a penitent confesses to a serious crime, such as a murder or child sex abuse, should the priest require the penitent to surrender to the police as a precondition to receiving absolution?


#2

[quote="Rau, post:1, topic:336938"]
I am wondering whether the granting of forgiveness for a sin which breaches a serious criminal law should require the penitent to surrender himself/herself to the civil authorities. For example, if a penitent confesses to a serious crime, such as a murder or child sex abuse, should the priest require the penitent to surrender to the police as a precondition to receiving absolution?

[/quote]

No, absolutely not! The confessor cannot impose any such conditions on the grant of absolution. Likewise, before it might even be asked: there are absolutely no circumstances whatsoever where the confessor can ever disclose to the civil authorities, or anyone else, that which has been confessed to him.


#3

[quote="Rau, post:1, topic:336938"]
I am wondering whether the granting of forgiveness for a sin which breaches a serious criminal law should require the penitent to surrender himself/herself to the civil authorities. For example, if a penitent confesses to a serious crime, such as a murder or child sex abuse, should the priest require the penitent to surrender to the police as a precondition to receiving absolution?

[/quote]

No. This cannot be done. The confessor cannot require the penitent to reveal themselves in any way. That violates the seal of confession.


#4

[quote="1ke, post:3, topic:336938"]
No. This cannot be done. The confessor cannot require the penitent to reveal themselves in any way. That violates the seal of confession.

[/quote]

How would the seal be broken? The priest would tell the penitent that they must accept as penance the judgement of the civil authorities. How could a penitent object to that, yet still expect absolution?

What led me to ask the initial question was hearing a Cardinal state that he would not hear the confession of a priest if he knew that priest was coming to confess child sex abuse. That struck me as wrong, and my suggestion of hearing the confession but requiring the penitent to surrender to the authorities in order to have absolution made far more sense, before God and State. [Perhaps what the Cardinal was implying was that the first step the priest needs to take is to admit his crime to the civil authorities, after which a good confession is possible?]


#5

[quote="Rau, post:4, topic:336938"]
How would the seal be broken? The priest would tell the penitent that they must accept as penance the judgement of the civil authorities. How could a penitent object to that, yet still expect absolution?

What led me to ask the initial question was hearing a Cardinal state that he would not hear the confession of a priest if he knew that priest was coming to confess child sex abuse. That struck me as wrong, and my suggestion of hearing the confession but requiring the penitent to surrender to the authorities in order to have absolution made far more sense, before God and State. [Perhaps what the Cardinal was implying was that the first step the priest needs to take is to admit his crime to the civil authorities, after which a good confession is possible?]

[/quote]

Whatever a penitent confesses is protected by the seal of the confession. If I confess sin X to my confessor that remains absolutely secret between me and him. I can tell other people that I have committed sin X if I want to do that. I've seen people post threads here on CAF saying they've committed this or that sin.

If the confessor forced you into revealing the sin against your will breaks the seal of the confession.

I have to assume you heard the cardinal correctly. I'm sure a cardinal's knowledge of sacramental law and theology is far greater than mine. I cannot, though, think of any reason why the cardinal you mention or any confessor should refuse to hear a confession. Why should he refuse God's mercy to anyone?


#6

[quote="Bergon, post:5, topic:336938"]
Whatever a penitent confesses is protected by the seal of the confession. If I confess sin X to my confessor that remains absolutely secret between me and him. I can tell other people that I have committed sin X if I want to do that. I've seen people post threads here on CAF saying they've committed this or that sin.

If the confessor forced you into revealing the sin against your will breaks the seal of the confession.

I have to assume you heard the cardinal correctly. I'm sure a cardinal's knowledge of sacramental law and theology is far greater than mine. I cannot, though, think of any reason why the cardinal you mention or any confessor should refuse to hear a confession. Why should he refuse God's mercy to anyone?

[/quote]

I suggest that the priest is NOT forcing the penitent to do anything. He is challenging the penitent to decide whether he is truly ready to make a proper confession. If, by this standard, he is not, then he can go about his life his secret intact. But he has not secured absolution [my view, in this scenario].


#7

I do ask the question - just how contrite is the person who does not allow closure to their victims and families?

'Dear Lord I am sorry I killed X, Y, and Z and hid the bodies, but I don't wish to inconvenience myself by going to the authorities with the info and taking my medicine.'

'Dear Lord I am sorry I have messed about with kids and caused them continued psychological trauma, perhaps rendering them suicidal and causing much ongoing distress to my victim(s), maybe their parents, siblings, and even their spouses and children if 'flashbacks' and supressed memories emerge shattering the likes of marital intimacy, causing deep distress and suicidal 'urges' etc. etc..
- But to openly show remorse by going to the authorities, or going to any of my victims [perhaps in my own family] and saying sorry and asking for forgiveness would cause me problems, and I would like to stay as 'comfortable' in my own situation as possible. After all is is mostly about me isn't it?'

Hmmmn. Such folks have less excuse for moral 'cowardice' here in the UK since most life sentences actually run for 7-10 years, not the hundreds of years without parole you can get in the US, and we no longer have capital punishment.


#8

[quote="Rau, post:6, topic:336938"]
I suggest that the priest is NOT forcing the penitent to do anything.

[/quote]

"Tell the police what you have done or I will withold absolution" is coercion. It is not permitted.

[quote="Rau, post:6, topic:336938"]
He is challenging the penitent to decide whether he is truly ready to make a proper confession.

[/quote]

He can discern whether to withold absolution. He cannot however give absolution on the grounds the penitent reveals his sins. He cannot do that. The Church forbids it.

[quote="Rau, post:6, topic:336938"]
But he has not secured absolution [my view, in this scenario].

[/quote]

That's not a decison for us to make.


#9

[quote="Mount_Carmel, post:7, topic:336938"]
I do ask the question - just how contrite is the person who does not allow closure to their victims and families?

[/quote]

It might through doubt on his contrition. That's not the question. The question is can a priest coerce a penitent to reveal his sins as a condition for being granted absolution? The answer is no.


#10

Mount Carmel - you make the point far more colourfully than I could!

It also occurs to me that the spectre of the Catholic Church enabling a (Catholic) child sex abuser to enjoy a perfectly fine relationship with God, despite the individual remaining free from obligation to confess to the community, would be - in my view - appalling.


#11

[quote="Bergon, post:8, topic:336938"]

He can discern whether to withold absolution.

[/quote]

This much we certainly agree on. I guess my question is - would he?

I struggle to understand how, in the circumstances I've described, the priest could conclude "OK, I absolve you", when the penitent has so far chosen to keep his heinous crime secret, and is free to continue to do so. And in the case of crimes such as child sex abuse, there is the real possibility that the crime will be repeated. For the penitent to keep secret is like a continuation of the sin, in my view.


#12

[quote="Rau, post:10, topic:336938"]
Mount Carmel - you make the point far more colourfully than I could!

It also occurs to me that the spectre of the Catholic Church enabling a (Catholic) child sex abuser to enjoy a perfectly fine relationship with God, despite the individual remaining free from obligation to confess to the community, would be - in my view - appalling.

[/quote]

Nevertheless it happens. Absolution is not a personal favour to be granted or withheld as the confessor pleases. If he's in no doubt about the penitent's dispositions and is asked for absolution, he must give it and not deny or defer it.


#13

[quote="Rau, post:10, topic:336938"]
Mount Carmel - you make the point far more colourfully than I could!

It also occurs to me that the spectre of the Catholic Church enabling a (Catholic) child sex abuser to enjoy a perfectly fine relationship with God, despite the individual remaining free from obligation to confess to the community, would be - in my view - appalling.

[/quote]

[quote="Rau, post:11, topic:336938"]
This much we certainly agree on. I guess my question is - would he?

I struggle to understand how, in the circumstances I've described, the priest could conclude "OK, I absolve you", when the penitent has so far chosen to keep his heinous crime secret, and is free to continue to do so. And in the case of crimes such as child sex abuse, there is the real possibility that the crime will be repeated. For the penitent to keep secret is like a continuation of the sin, in my view.

[/quote]

However, it isn't the Church's view. It's about the penitent's disposition. If satisfied that the penitent is contrite the confessor must absolve. He can't make absolution conditional on revealing his sins to any other party. Similarly, he couldn't impose revealing his crimes to the authorities as his penance.

As difficult as it might be to accept this is the Church's teaching. God's mercy isn't to be denied to anyone with the necessary disposition.

It is a separate question: would the circumstances you describe mean that the penitent isn't truly contrite. I believe that is a far more difficult question to answer. I also wonder whether such a person would approach a priest for confession anyway.


#14

[quote="Bergon, post:12, topic:336938"]
Nevertheless it happens. Absolution is not a personal favour to be granted or withheld as the confessor pleases. If he's in no doubt about the penitent's dispositions and is asked for absolution, he must give it and not deny or defer it.

[/quote]

OK, I think I can agree with that too. But the nub of the question is this: * Is it reasonable to "be in no doubt about the penitent's disposition", when said penitent has not, and does not intend to, report to the civil authorities?*


#15

[quote="Bergon, post:13, topic:336938"]

It is a separate question: would the circumstances you describe mean that the penitent isn't truly contrite. I believe that is a far more difficult question to answer. I also wonder whether such a person would approach a priest for confession anyway.

[/quote]

OK - our posts crossed in the night.......your last paragraph (above) is the key point. And I take your point about the reduced chance of a person in this situation actually going to confession.


#16

This exactly. It may be that the penitents refusal to go to the authorities stems from lack of contrition.

But the operative word is "may." It could be that the penitent is contrite, but is so fearful of the consequences that he can't bring himself to turn himself in. This isn't good. It isn't justified. But it isn't grounds for refusing absolution either.


#17

[quote="Iron_Donkey, post:16, topic:336938"]

This exactly. It may be that the penitents refusal to go to the authorities stems from lack of contrition.

But the operative word is "may." It could be that the penitent is contrite, but is so fearful of the consequences that he can't bring himself to turn himself in. This isn't good. It isn't justified. But it isn't grounds for refusing absolution either.

[/quote]

It would seem to me that in the scenario you paint, the sin, or perhaps a different sin - continues.


#18

[quote="Rau, post:17, topic:336938"]
It would seem to me that in the scenario you paint, the sin, or perhaps a different sin - continues.

[/quote]

Possibly, yes. I simply do not know if it would be a sin to not turn oneself in. But even if it is, then it would be definitely be a different sin, and not one that affects the ability to grant absolution to the first.

So far as I understand the arguments here, turning oneself in would be part of restitution. We are required to try to make restitution when possible, and the desire or plan to do so is part of contrition, which is necessary for absolution.

But, again - so far as I understand, absolution is not conditional on the fullfillment of the desire/plan to make restitution, only on its existence at the time of confession. Failing to do so may constitute a different sin, but a) the restitution need not be done by the time of confession, and b) even if it is never done, the confession was still valid - there may just now be another sin.

I am not sure I agree that turning oneself in is absolutely required as restitution, or for contrition to exist for any other reason. I lean towards thinking that it is not, in general. But even if it is, that is not enough to deny absolution.


#19

There's a very simple answer - acceptance of responsibility through handing oneself over to the authorities would likely form part of the penance given. There are also some sins where absolution is reserved to the local bishop or the the Holy See.

There can be times when it would be inappropriate for a priest to hear someone's confession, basically because the risk of detriment to the penitent or disclosure is simply to great - the sin may be absolved but the priest is only human and so can't forget completely what he's heard. So, for example, while the rector of my seminary isn't prohibited from hearing my confession if I freely approach him, he wouldn't because of these risks.


#20

[quote="InThePew, post:19, topic:336938"]
There's a very simple answer - acceptance of responsibility through handing oneself over to the authorities would likely form part of the penance given.

[/quote]

This cannot be given as a penance.

[quote="InThePew, post:19, topic:336938"]
There are also some sins where absolution is reserved to the local bishop or the the Holy See.

[/quote]

This crime isn't.

[quote="InThePew, post:19, topic:336938"]
... my seminary ...

[/quote]

Have you studied the sacrament of Penance yet?


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