The Catholic ‘Confession Secrecy’ Conundrum

The use of ‘confession’ as a tool of blackmail to rape a woman done by five-priests of the Malankara Orthodox Church in Kerala has once again opened the debate on the Catholic Church’s practice of the Sacrament of Penance. The Vatican through its document Crimen sollicitationis keeps investigations of crimes occurred through abusing the confessional to sexually proposition penitents, sexual acts against minors and now use of pornography under secrecy of the Church. investigates…

The Holy Office (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in March 1962 issued a document titled in Latin Crimen Sollicitationis. The document established a procedure for canonical cases in which priests were accused of abusing the confessional to sexually proposition penitents. The document stipulates that such cases are covered by the “secret of the Holy Office,” today known as pontifical secrecy, the strictest form of secrecy in church law. Excommunication is prescribed for anyone who violates this secrecy.

The document itself was kept a secret. The instructions are on the first page of the document, direct that it has to be stored in the archives of each diocese, and that it not be published or commented upon. It however came to light in 2002, because it was referenced in a footnote to a May 18, 2002, letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, to the bishops of the world regarding new procedures for sex abuse cases. During the trial of the cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston, Attorney Carmen L Durso sent a copy of the Crimen Sollicitationis to US Attorney Michael J Sullivan, arguing that it may prove that the Catholic Church has been obstructing justice.

In numerous discussions on the subject of this document – Crimen Sollicitationis – canonical experts of the Church opine that the document dealt with canonical cases against a priest that could lead to removal from ministry or expulsion from the vocation of being a priest. Its imposition of secrecy concerned the church’s internal disciplinary process. However, it did not; prevent a bishop or anyone else from reporting a crime against a minor to civil authorities.

Canon experts further assert that the document has been drafted to allow the witnesses and other parties to speak freely, knowing that their responses will be confidential. It also allows the accused party to protect his reputation and integrity until the guilt of the act is established and thirdly it allows victims to come forward without exposing themselves to publicity.

In the case of the Malankara Orthodox Church, when the victim and family approached the Church leaders for justice. The Church instituted a Committee to investigate the matter. Even after two-months the Committee did not make any headway in their investigations on the matter or provide justice to the victim. The victim and her family members felt that the Church was not moving along on the investigations and decided to come out on social media to expose the crime in public. The National Commission for Women wrote to the Kerala Police to investigate the matter and submit a report. Crime Branch has now taken over the case and the Priests have applied for anticipatory bails in Kerala High Court, two of the alleged rapist priests have secured bail. The matter has now been referred to the Supreme Court. The main priest who violated the sanctity of confessions is still absconding.

The canon experts state that Crimen Sollicitationis was not drafted to cover up sex abuse; in fact it obligates anyone with knowledge of a priest abusing the confessional for that purpose to come forward.

While the Church advocates that pontifical secrecy does not apply to sexual abuse. Under a Feb. 4, 1974, instruction Secreta Continere, pontifical secrecy covers:

1. Documents for which pontifical secrecy is expressly indicated;
2. Affairs dealt with by the Secretariat of State under pontifical secrecy;
3. Doctrinal denunciations and publications of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as its investigations;
4. Extrajudicial denunciations of crimes against the faith or against morals, and crimes against the sacrament of penance, as well as the procedures leading to these denunciations;
5. Acts by Vatican representatives relative to matters covered by the pontifical secret;
6. Creation of cardinals;
7. Nomination of bishops, apostolic administrators and other ordinaries with episcopal power, and the procedures related to these appointments;
8. Nomination of superiors and other major officials of the Roman curia; 9) Codes and coded correspondence;
9. Affairs and practices of the pope, of the chief cardinal or archbishop of a dicastery and of pontifical representatives.

So if reporting of a crime is not stopped, the question arises as to the reasons behind the failure of the Church leaders of Malankara Orthodox Church reporting the matter to the local police in Kerala and need to set up its own Committee to investigate the matter.
The Crimen Sollicitationis is a document that continues to be debated as more and more cases of abuse of the confessional and child abuse surface. Here below are extracts of the document…


Savio Rodrigues

Savio Rodrigues Founder & Editor-in-Chief

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