21st Century Religious Persecution
Religious persecution happening under Australian law right now. No one has died or been beaten, but the problem remains a serious one. Legislation now states that priests who are made aware of pedophilia in the privacy of confession must report the person who confessed to doing the unlawful actions. To avoid reporting these people is to in turn break the law of the state and suffer the consequences of breaking said law.
On one hand, it is easy to sympathize with this legislation. One might say that it is good and proper that priests should be forced to turn in these pedophiles. After all, the safety of children is of the utmost importance. There are few who would disagree that protecting children is of the utmost important! The problem, however, is that it seeks to overthrow the authority of the Church concerning this matter.
The seal of confession is meant to never be broken, a stance that the Church has taken for many, many centuries. It is because of this seal that so many people have found the courage to release their sins to God and seek forgiveness. There are several reasons why I do not support this law in Australia or anywhere else:
1. It goes against the (exceptional) idea that the government should not interfere with religious practices. Ironically, Australia’s constitution states that: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.” It seems to me that this new law prohibits the proper treatment of a sacrament (a much older and more widely accepted exercise of the Catholic Church). This is an unconstitutional law to say the least. It pressures priests into going against their conscience and, more importantly, against what they believe to be the law of God.
2. People will not seek to confess their sins and find spiritual healing if this law effects the way men of the cloth treat the seal of confession. If people believe that the priest they confess to will simply turn them in without hesitation, why would they go to confession at all? It is true that some people will abuse the confessional, but it is still necessary that the priest maintains seal—in other words, two wrongs don’t make a right.
3. It is a worldly decree that means well, yet goes against the law of God, and therefore cannot last. God’s law is higher than man’s and will last even to the end of the age. For the Australian government to implement a law in the Church is for them to say that they are the authority of the Church, and not the line of authority Christ instituted. This has never been true, nor will it ever be true.
Thankfully, the types of confessions in question are highly rare and unusual—which may relieve the burden that the priests face. This is, however, still goes against a highly important principle. There is no excuse for what the Australian government is saying about the Church’s right to exercise it’s holy practices. While I believe that most priests will prioritize the law of the Church over the law of the land, the problem remains: this is an outright attack against a holy sacrament that was instituted by Christ Himself. What the world needs to understand is that anyone who confesses to a priest is not confessing to a man, but to God through one of His chosen ministers. The purpose of confession is not to vent one’s sins, but to find healing, forgiveness, and redemption. It is not the place of the priest to speak these sins outside of confession, but simply to do his job and act in persona Christi. He is obligated to God and Church ministry before anything else, even what he might perceive as “justice.” We should be praying for both Australia and the Church as they negotiate their way through this period of conflict.