What should the Law require concerning Priests who abuse Children?

Child abuse is a very grave sin and also a grave crime. The problem has been that Bishops, priests, and other diocesan and parish staff know about the crime of child abuse by a priest or other church staff and do not report it. At times, they even help to cover up the crime by moving the priest from parish to parish, and by lying (with the written and spoken word) about why the priest was transferred.

I don’t know what the current laws are on mandated reporting, but the laws are evidently not strict enough. The laws should mandate reporting by any church staff, including bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and lay staff, both volunteers and employees. If anyone fails to report within the required period of time (a certain number of days after learning of the crime), there should be a penalty with a mandatory jail sentence. If anyone fails to report in the allotted time, but does report subsequent to that time, the penalty should be reduced to exclude a jail sentence. Bishops who fail to report should be given a mandatory jail sentence with at least a year of actual time served.

Any church staff who not only fail to report, but actually cover up the crime by moving the priest from one parish to another, or by lying in the spoken or written word to cover the crime, or who cover up the crime in any way, should be given mandatory lengthy jail sentences. Bishops who cover up the crime of child abuse by any priest or church staff should be given mandatory lengthy jail sentences. They should also be laicized and excommunicated by the Church, along with the abuser. What would Jesus say about such a crime?

{18:1} In that hour, the disciples drew near to Jesus, saying, “Whom do you consider to be greater in the kingdom of heaven?”
{18:2} And Jesus, calling to himself a little child, placed him in their midst.
{18:3} And he said: “Amen I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
{18:4} Therefore, whoever will have humbled himself like this little child, such a one is greater in the kingdom of heaven.
{18:5} And whoever shall accept one such little child in my name, accepts me.
{18:6} But whoever will have led astray one of these little ones, who trust in me, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be submerged in the depths of the sea.
{18:7} Woe to a world that leads people astray! Although it is necessary for temptations to arise, nevertheless: Woe to that man through whom temptation arises!
{18:8} So if your hand or your foot leads you to sin, cut it off and cast it away from you. It is better for you to enter into life disabled or lame, than to be sent into eternal fire having two hands or two feet.
{18:9} And if your eye leads you to sin, root it out and cast it away from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, than to be sent into the fires of Hell having two eyes.
{18:10} See to it that you do not despise even one of these little ones. For I say to you, that their Angels in heaven continually look upon the face of my Father, who is in heaven.
{18:11} For the Son of man has come to save what had been lost.

Millstone … neck … sea … hellfire. So the Lord Jesus supports strict laws and penalties for those who commit grave crimes against children.

As I explained in my previous post, the law should never require any confessor to report any crime to the authorities, nor should any confessor disclose any sin or crime revealed during an attempted confession. For the Son of Man came to save what is lost, including persons guilty of grave sins and crimes. So the law should not require mandated reporting for confessors — except when that same priest-confessor or bishop-confessor learns of a crime outside of the confessional.

Suppose that a law is passed requiring confessors to violate the seal of the confessional for particular grave crimes. This law will not benefit society. Criminals will know about the law, since laws are not secret, and they will not confess crimes in the confessional. If, as a rare exception, a criminal does confess a crime, the confession is secret and the priest will likely not comply with the law. How can a priest be caught breaking this law? If the criminal testifies that he confessed a serious crime to the priest, the criminal will receive a long jail sentence and the priest will likely get a sentence with no jail time, since his offense is lesser. So the criminal is not going to testify against his priest-confessor. Therefore, such a law will have no effect on reducing crime or finding criminals.

But in many cases, the abuse of a child by a priest is known outside the confessional. The Bishop knows, since he moves the priest from parish to parish. The Bishop does not find out that his priest his an abuser in the confessional. A priest who confesses this sin and crime will not choose to confess to the person who has authority over him, nor to a fellow priest in his same parish. For they will forever remember that sin every time they lay eyes on him. No, he will go to a priest in a different parish or diocese, to confess his sins and crimes to someone who does not know him. But I should add that many abusers are unrepentant, and so they do not confess this crime in the confessional at all.

Thus, it is neither necessary nor effective to require confessors to disclose any crimes revealed in confession. But whenever the crime is known by words or deeds outside the confessional, everyone involved should be a mandated reporter.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to What should the Law require concerning Priests who abuse Children?

  1. John Platts says:

    The majority of Catholics still do believe that the sexual abuse of minors by priests is intrinsically evil, always gravely sinful, and never morally justifiable. Even most of the Catholics who consider contracepted sexual acts or consensual premarital sex to be acceptable despite these acts being considered to be intrinsically evil according to Catholic Church teaching still do believe that the sexual abuse of minors is unacceptable in any circumstance. In addition to being intrinsically evil, gravely sinful, and unacceptable to the majority of Catholics, the sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Catholic Church also violates the vow of celibacy that a priest is normally required to take as part of his ordination into the priesthood and is also a form of scandal.

    The sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests should not be covered up, not only because the sexual abuse of minors is intrinsically evil and always gravely sinful, but also because there is the potential for further sexual abuse if the sexual abuse is covered up. Those who have been sexually abused as children by Catholic priests should come forward and report the abuse to both the appropriate Church authorities as well as law enforcement.

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