Suggested new laws about Disclosure; Des Wilson
Privacy, confidentiality and advice seeking are being taken out of our lives. Through centuries people built up customs of privacy which helped make life easier. It was taken for granted that some events in life were private or sacred. Now childbirth is portrayed on screen, the Confessional began to be portrayed in films many ears ago, language which was considered either sacred or unworthy is used as normal, secret filming and cameras intruding into streets and even washing areas, police and military can demand medical records, such records and much else once considered private are stored in electronic devices which now prove much less secure for citizens than a domestic cupboard closed with a B and Q padlock and key. Now to include disclosures to authorities by priests about what is heard in the Confessional? From the days when people were shocked by an English playwright – was it Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh?- writing a play with a lavatory flushing as “ sounds off” , films, television have become more and more explicit and more and more intrusive into areas of life once were considered delicately private. Now such dissolution of privacy is going a step further with everyone bound to report every piece of information about possible abuse of children; it may be impossible now for anyone to ask advice about this matter if even the slightest deviation or mistake has occurred rather than a criminal offence.
What happens then if a youngperson has a first encounter, with some sexual content, with another youngperson and confides in a parent? Parental advice cannot happen unless at thecost of creating an official investigation? The days of confidential advicefrom relatives, friends, clergy, even parents are over? If everyone is obligedto report allegations, suspicions, indications, events, the relief of gettingadvice from people one trusts is over. The relief of the sacrament of penancefor troubled people is over. A multitude of reports to a multitude of people isthe end result of laws imposing mandatory disclosure, a multitude of reportswhich must inevitably include nonsense as well as reality to be sorted out byalready overburdened officials and social workers and stored in devices whereeven the best of them cannot guarantee privacy? And certainly, if laws ofmandatory disclosure about sexual matters are made, then similar laws aboutall law breaking must follow. So what happens then when someone who admits tosome petty theft or misdemeanour is persuaded to make restitution as acondition of forgiveness and peace of mind? That is over.
The church law of Confession atleast once a year with an obligation of disclosure about anything to stateauthorities means we are putting pressure on penitents to do what civil practicehesitates to do, force people to make statements in one tribunal which mayincriminate them in another.
However, there is a principle that if in Confession we would suffer serious inconvenience by confessing in detail we are relieved of the duty to do it – even knowing a priest will recognise us by our voice is enough to relieve a penitent of full disclosure in the sacrament. Although the obligation of confessing to another confessor, if there is another suitable occasion, remains. But in that case will a civil law of mandatory disclosure require that in such a future Confession a priest ask a penitent’s name and address?
All this tends to show that the ministers responsible have not been well advised – perhaps not advised at all – about the real implications of what he or she is proposing. On the one hand there is the ineffectualness of what is proposed, on the other there is the blocking off of an important relief which could be had by a person who may have made a mistake rather than satisfied an urge to sin.
Already people have been named and shamed and priests and others publicly suspended, and sometimes after years of waiting have been shown to have no case to answer, have gone back to work without the publicity which attended their suspension. That is gross and unjust and underlines the fact that we have been far too indulgent to the authorities’ demands that they be seen to be doing more than is necessary.
The first line of defence of children or others is their own knowledge and education in what is right and wrong and how to protect themselves. That line of defence has been avoided as much as possible as long as possible by various authorities.It still remains to be made useful and used.