France: controversy over the seal of confession

The recent revelations about cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have triggered a heated debate over the seal of confession in France. The key question: are priests obliged to report cases of abuse if they learn about them in a confidential conversation? Or is the seal of confession above the laws of the Republic, as Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, Archbishop of Reims, has said?

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La Croix (FR) /

Yesterday's debates cloud today's issues

In the view of the Catholic newspaper La Croix the whole discussion distracts from the real challenge at hand:

“The questioning of the seal of confession is a sensitive issue in the fight against abuse, however it is by no means a central one. The same goes for the relationship between Church and state. ... The overwhelming majority of Catholics have long since adopted the principle of secularism. The French Church's top priority must be to put an end to cases of abuse within its ranks. The forces of inertia in the Church are too strong for us to waste our energy on controversies from a bygone era.”

Libération (FR) /

Church must respect moral principles

The question is not whether state or Church laws take precedence in general but whether the seal of confession must be respected in specific cases of sexual abuse, Libération comments:

“Even if one were to accept that there is a law-giving deity (which is not trivial!), the seal of confession cannot be binding in a democracy if it can be subjected to a fairly simple and convincing moral critique. For what is at stake here, it must be remembered, are hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual abuse, past, present and perhaps future. Even people of faith can recognise that the rules instituted by their earthly religious authority - not by their god himself! - must respect fundamental moral principles.”