Blink and you'll miss it! The new law on mandatory report is ready to go and will be brought before the houses of parliament here in Ireland in the coming weeks. The law will compel everyone who has received information on abuse to report it to the authorities, to fail to do so will mean time in prison - five to ten years.
Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, has confirmed that priests who receive information in the context of confession are also obliged to report what they have heard. In other words: under this new Irish law priests must break the Seal of the Confession or face prison. Lest any of our friends outside Ireland still harbour illusions about Catholic Ireland - it is well and truly dead. If I may lean on W.B. Yeats, "it's with O'Connell in the grave".
No doubt there will be a challenge. The first prosecution of a priest, if it happens (it will be extremely difficult for the DPP to prove what a priest heard or did not hear in confession), will lead to a constitutional challenge because this law may indeed infringe our right under the Constitution to religious freedom, and as confession is part of the formal beliefs and practices of our Catholic faith, to seek to desecrate it, is a direct attack on religious freedom.
We shall see where this goes. The bill will be passed - the government has an absolute majority, and I doubt if too many of the Catholic members of either Fine Gael or Labour will object: one tends to find that party affiliation trumps faith all the time (although God will put them straight on that one day). However, I will be hopeful, perhaps some may challenge it.
St John Nepomuk, Patron Saint of Confessors, put to death by the secular authorities because he would not reveal what he heard in confession.