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Is it time to end the Catholic seal of confessional that protects child-abusers, murderers?

… “sanctity of confession vs. safety of children”

“Only God can forgive sins.”

For years, the Roman Catholic Church has been protecting priests and other child abusers from facing criminal sanctions. They have worked to prevent the extension of statutes of limitations on those crimes, spending tens of millions of dollars to do so.

In most cases, they have been successful authorities have never been able to arrest most abusers or convict them for their crimes..

However, the abuses of the priests and bishops and cardinals and popes who have been instrumental in doing this have now outraged many throughout the country. Now, many want to eliminate the sanctity of the Catholic confessional, which is where the criminals in the clergy and elsewhere go to confess their sins and seemingly to forgive them to allow them to enter heaven.

The problem is that the priests who hear confessions are forbidden by Catholic practice from revealing what was said in the confessional, even if it means that a psychotic killer may be on the loose or a pedophile may be released to violate more children.

Nothing in the Bible gives reason for this injustice.

I have a solution. Eliminate confession completely and make it something between the person and God. Take away the priest since that has become such a sham and so controversial.

Milwaukee priest suspended for urging elimination

Father Jim Connell is a retired priest and former top administrator in the archdiocese of Milwaukee who is outraged by the church’s action in protecting abusers. Over the past few years, he has taken action, and the bishop has seen fit to suspend his ability to hear confessions.

Nevertheless, he is adamant about the morality of the situation,

"Protecting the child is more important than worrying about whether the government is going to tell us how to practice our religion," Connell, a retired priest and canon lawyer who served as the Milwaukee Archdiocese's vice chancellor 1994-2012, told [National Catholic Reporter] in a recent interview.

Brian Fraga, “Debate over clergy exemption pits sanctity of confession against child safety,” National Catholic Reporter (NCR), April 3, 2023

He is saying that the American bishops' focus on religious freedom is a farce. They should be protecting children instead.

Connell’s nationwide effort

Father Connell’s efforts have not been limited to the archdiocese in which he has served. He has taken his efforts nationwide, and that has outraged his archbishop so much that he has taken action against him,

Since January 2019, Fr. Jim Connell of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been urging state legislators around the country to repeal clergy-penitent privilege in mandatory reporting laws that exempt Catholic priests from notifying authorities of any sexual abuse they hear about in the confessional.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki has suspended Connell's faculties to hear confessions and grant absolution, citing his advocacy "for the removal of the legal protection of the confessional seal, suggesting there are situations where it is permissible to violate it." Listecki said in a March 22 statement that Connell's "false assertions" that the seal of confession should not apply in some situations had caused "understandable and widespread unrest" among Catholics.

Brian Fraga, National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Apri l 3, 2023

The widespread unrest is with the Catholic clergy and hierarchy who have been protecting these criminals over the years.

His is understandable since Listecki, who was originally made a bishop by John Paul II and then elevated to archbishop by Benedict XVI, is one of the most egregious protectors of those clerical criminals.

More on that later.

“I will not be silenced”

Father Connell saw first-hand the devastating violations that Listecki was making in Milwaukee since he was the vice-chancellor for two years after Listecki took over in Milwaukee.

Connell is still permitted to celebrate Mass and present himself as a priest.

He said he intends to continue his advocacy, and to work with lawmakers in states including Utah, Delaware and Vermont, where proposed bills would close the so-called clergy-penitent "loophole" in laws that mandate people in certain professions report child sexual abuse. Thirty-three states currently have clergy-penitent exemptions.

"I will not be silenced, and I will not be quiet," said Connell, who in 1995 was assigned to investigate the case of the late Fr. Lawrence Murphy, a notorious predator who used the confessional to target and groom victims, and to solicit sexual favors.

Murphy was appointed director of St. John School for the Deaf in 1963 and in 1973 abuse was first reported to the Milwaukee Police Department, according to a list of clergy abusers on the archdiocese's website. In summer 1974, Murphy was removed from any role at the school.

Brian Fraga, NCR, April 3, 2023

Listecki condemned for his actions

I seldom use Wikipedia as a source, but in this case, it presents the materials about how egregious Listecki’s efforts in the coverup were,

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) criticized Archbishop Listecki on January 6, 2010, for allowing retired archbishops Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and Daniel Edward Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, who were implicated in covering up of cases of sexual abuse, to say Mass at St. John's Cathedral in Milwaukee.

On January 12, 2010, during a hearing of the Wisconsin State Senate on a bill to extend the statute of limitations for reporting abuse as supported by Milwaukee District Attorney John T. Chisholm. State Senator Glenn Grothman joined in this criticism, and also questioned Listecki on why he allowed Weakland, who had been accused of moving around abusive priests, to keep his title as Emeritus Archbishop of Milwaukee, as well as retaining the name Weakland Center on the pastoral center at St. John's Cathedral.

Listecki testified against the bill, saying it would single out Catholic institutions and bankrupt the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

“Jerome E. Listecki,” Wikipedia

What he was saying was that the church is more important than the children. Reprehensible.

Should we have the seal of confession?

The truth is that the secrecy of the confessional is not something that has existed since the formation of the church. It is church practice, like celibacy, not a traditional foundational element of the church’s teaching.

Jesus said that only God can forgive sins, but the church believes that it is God,

Some canon lawyers, sacramental theologians and priests who support Connell's desire to protect children and vulnerable adults, however, say that the pope cannot amend canon law to require that priests report sexual abuse that they hear about in confession.

"The priest can never say anything to anyone, ever, about a confession," Msgr. Kevin Irwin, a sacramental theologian and former dean at the Catholic University of America, told NCR. "The seal is the most sacred trust priests must keep and that penitents must be able to rely on."

However, individual confessions did not become part of the Catholic Church practices until the 13th Century. The original practice was to confess these publicly, and the penances often lasted for years — instead of five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys.

Not everyone thinks that any religious organization should be able to violate the civil criminal law, which is what happens when priests fail to report criminals to authorities.

The question that the church ignores is why it believes that it can forgive sins, even egregious ones such as murder and child abuse. Why not allow individuals to confess directly to God and eliminate the intermediary, who really does not serve any realistic function except to make the sinners believe that God has forgiven them.

We can never know that God forgives our sins just because the church says so. In addition, what I was taught as a child was that the sin was only forgiven once the sinner served his or her penance.

For instance, will those people who sent soldiers to Iraq under false pretenses ever be forgiven by God if they do not admit their sin and accept some penance?

Hiding behind the confessional is an egregious violation of criminal law

The Milwaukee bishop was lambasted in 2010 by law enforcement in Wisconsin,

Listecki was publicly criticized in February 2010 by Jerry Matysik, the Eau Claire Police Chief, and SNAP for allegedly misleading the Wisconsin State Legislature about the LaCrosse diocese abuse notification procedure in Listecki's testimony against extending the statute of limitations, stating, "Archbishop Listecki appears more interested in protecting the organization than he is in protecting children,"and again in August 2010 by SNAP for passing up action on an abuse claim due to lack of evidence.

It is disturbing that the current Milwaukee leader, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said last week that the church underwent an "arc of understanding" across time to come to grips with the scandal – as if the statutory rapes of children were not always a glaring crime in the eyes of society as well as the church itself.


Those who are crying for religious freedom should think about the freedom of those young children whose lives were decimated by abuse of priests.

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