To confess is 'above, beyond all else'


CLERICAL REACTION:THE SEAL of confession is “above and beyond all else” and should not be broken even if a penitent confesses to a crime, a member of the Association of Catholic Priests has said.

Fr PJ Madden said the seal was a very sacred thing, as people did not come to the confession box as criminals but rather seeking forgiveness and an opportunity to have a change of heart.

He was speaking after Minister for Justice Alan Shatter outlined legislation following the publication of the Cloyne report which would result in a prison sentence of up to five years for people who fail to report an arrestable offence against a child or vulnerable adult, even if heard in confession.

Fr Madden said he would appeal to the penitent – whether a priest or otherwise – to go and confess their crime to the Garda and have the civil aspect dealt with, but that he did not approve of the idea of reporting what was said.

“If I’m breaking the law, then somebody has to find a way to address that for me,” he told RTÉ Radio 1’s News at One. “But in my own right as a priest, what I understand is the seal of confession is above and beyond all else.”

Questioned on whether this seal was above the law of the land, Fr Madden said: “Yes. I cannot presume to break that seal if someone comes to me as a penitent.”

Fr Madden said he was shocked, hurt and angered by the contents of the report. He said there was a cohort of good priests in Cloyne and other dioceses doing good work that had been “tarnished by this outrageous and scandalous behaviour” by the then Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee.

Asked whether victims were right to be angered that supposedly good priests did not raise their heads above the parapet and report sex abuse cases, Fr Madden said they had a point.