Well it seems I can't leave for a few days but all hell breaks loose. In the midst of my retreat the Cloyne Report comes out and more of the unsavoury doings of members of the Church in Ireland are revealed. This time, coupled with stories of abuse, we hear more accounts of the dreadful failure of Church figures to deal with it. This time there is no excuse: the guidelines are already in place and being stringently implemented in most dioceses, some to a draconian degree. But it seems there are some who are still ignoring them and when they do the rest of us have to bear the brunt of anger and criticism.
And, as ever, the media are making hay, and the government is promising to implement mandatory reporting, and in the process remove the protection usually given to the Seal of Confession - and this is the subject of the furore which greeted me as I emerged from the peace of prayer and silence.
Talking with some friends, lawyers among them, if the government tries to put this into law it will have an uphill battle, constitutionally as much as anything else. It seems the clauses in our Constitution dealing with religious freedom protect, in some way, the Seal of Confession. Other groups are also affected - social workers among them, and they are creating a rumpus. Now the media is treating them with respect, but when priests object to the violation of one of our most sacrosanct beliefs, the media and "concerned citizens" are in uproar. It is obvious that these objectors do not frequent the sacrament of reconciliation - they probably don't need to, unlike us sinners.
One has to wonder why the government, or at least ministers Alan Shatter, Frances Fitzgerald and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, should make such foolhardy promises. Perhaps, I said to myself reflecting on such stupidity from those who are supposed to be running the country, it was a knee-jerk reaction, or maybe they mean it so as to get revenge on the Church - deprive the Church of her rights as a punishment for not dealing with child abuse in a better way. Either way, they have revealed an appalling lack of wisdom, legal knowledge and common sense. They also reveal that they have little or no respect for religious freedom and, like many before them, they are prepared to solve a serious problem by acts of religious persecution, because that is what they are, in reality, proposing in trying to force Catholic priests to break the Seal of the Confessional.
That aside, the government will be hard set to find priests who will break the Seal knowing that to do so will mean automatic suspension and excommunication. I was heartened to hear that members of the Association of Catholic Priests, an organisation you know I have little time for, are prepared to go to jail rather than break the Seal: God bless them for saying that because they express the view of most of us priests - I say "most" because I note, with deep sadness, that at least one priest, whose name I will not record, has said that he will comply with the new law. It seems his bishop or superior needs to have a chat with him and, perhaps, if he is not prepared to protect the sacrament, he may need to reassess his position and perhaps make a vocational choice.
Church history records that many, many times the Seal has been threatened - and always by tyrants and persecutors. If the Irish government goes ahead with the law and then tried to implement it, it will join some of the most evil and bloodthirsty regimes in history, and all, they say, in an effort to protect children.
Ironically, mandatory reporting will not protect children or victims - in reality it will take away their rights and make them pariahs in society. How so?
Well, first of all it removes the victim's right to confide in someone. Some victims do not want to report their abuse, they want closure and healing, and for some going to court will not bring that - they decide to leave it. However they need a listening ear, someone who will confirm that they are not to blame. That confidentiality is no longer possible. Now you may point out that the legislation will allow victims this freedom, and if a victim tells the person they have come to that they do not want the information passed on, the new law will respect that. So everything is okay: not on your nellie! Given the consequences for non reporting no victim can be guaranteed that the person they go to will not report it - they will in order to cover themselves. What if the victim changes their mind later? they might say - cover yourself, go to the police: better breach of confidentiality than five years in jail!
This leads to the second outcome of this legislation: it will make pariahs of victims. Given the draconian penalties no one will want a victim coming to reveal that they are being abused - no one will want to get involved. The message may be sent out loud and clear from relations and friends "I don't want to hear from anyone who is abused; I don't want the responsibility." And so the victims are reduced to silence.......again. Congratulations government of Ireland! Strangely some victims' groups are full square behind this legislation which I cannot understand - surely they do not mean to diminish victims' rights, or maybe are they, at the end of the day really interested in victims - is it possible they have another agenda? It is not for me to comment - I will try and take them at face value, albeit with great puzzlement as to their stance on this one.
No one wants child abusers to get away. Contrary to media/public opinion the Church does not want child abusers to get away. The Vatican, in reminding the Irish bishops of abusers' rights under Canon Law, did so in order to urge the bishops to be careful in how they carry out their investigations so as not to compromise them and play into the hands of abusers who will appeal to Rome knowing a technicality will have their condemnation reversed. The media have put a different spin on this showing Rome in a negative light - truth tends not to matter to some in the media. The Vatican also has problems with mandatory reporting for a number of reasons, as do other organisations, yet while these other organisations are given the benefit of the doubt, not so the Church. We know why.
Time to get some sensible people together to think this one out, and not a government crawling to an anti-Catholic media and trying the quick fix as the best answer to a serious problem. In the end this will be a bad law and as we all know bad laws tend to do more damage than good and people suffer. I think we have had enough suffering as it is.