Confusing confession

The public, like Helsingin Sanomat and minister Paula Risikko, are busy as beehives about pedophilia within the church (Lutheran) and confession secrecy. It's something where it seems to be too easy to score political points. People seem to think: the Catholic church has had a particular pedophilia problem, so surely the Lutheran church must also have an equally large problem with it (despite the fact that the marital affairs of Lutheran priests are rather different from Catholic ones), and anyway, pedophilia is such a horrible crime that surely it's right to shoot anything that moves on this front. Pedophilia is so bad that normal judicial principles (like that people are innocent until proven guilty) do not apply. Pedophilia is so bad that although our legislation specifically forbids authorities from applying censorship, it's all right to silence Web sites that contain or link to suspicious material, and it's even all right to silence Web sites that contain or link to criticism of the censorship procedures.

Agreed, pedophilia is bad. But put that aside for a moment. Confession secrecy means in this context that if someone confesses to a priest that he/she has abused children, the priest is not supposed and not even allowed to inform the authorities about the crime. The minister wants to change this.

It seems like ministers and public alike would seriously need to be educated about what confessio is.

Lots of people seem to think that it's a privilege where Church employees would have specific permit to commit crimes or hide crimes of their colleagues about which they have information. That's not at all what confession is about. Confession is about processing one's conscience, and consulting about it in confidence.

Confession is there to help the penitent process his mind, that's all. It doesn't facilitate any other secrecy to hide crimes. Let's remember that the confession procedure is not very commonly applied in the Lutheran church. It's really not usual at all. Though I put a picture above, there are no confessionals (confession booths) in churches. There is no Sacrament of Penance in Lutheran church (because it only accepts the two sacraments set by the Christ, Holy Baptism and Eucharist). There's no way that divulging information obtained in confession could have major impact on the abuse of children within the church, simply because confession is not an everyday or an every-week or, for most people, an every-year occurrence. And in any case, confessino privilege protects only speech which would otherwise have not occurred at all.

If confession about issues regarding pedophilia are made unprivileged, then what else is going to be made unprivileged? Communication between a lawyer and a client, for instance? Should perhaps lawyers be forced to abstain from defending pedophiles, if the accused is guilty? And after this step has been taken, what other crimes are worthy of the same annulment of privileged communications? Murder, terrorism, hate against ethnic groups, tax fraud? (Note that if the penitent informs a priest about a major crime he/she is going to commit, the priest is already obliged to act to protect the potential victims.)

Talking about slippery-slope arguments is not too far-fetched here. Ministers advocate Morozov mentality, and simply for cheap political points. Paula Risikko needs some education. I think that what we need is not fewer confessions about pedophilia to a priest, but more confessions, because confession is not a method for the church to hide crimes inside, but to process them and encourage using the legal way to deal with them. Finding out about a crime outside confession is handled by church employees just like by anyone else. Confession is a method that allows those who feel guilty to talk to someone else, and get advice. The advice is most likely going to be that "God can forgive you in the afterlife, but if you seek redemption in this life, go to the police and repeat your confession; if you will not, stop what you were doing wrong and start making amends on your own."

I think that ending the privilege of confession would more likely mean more denial, more unprocessed wrongdoings, more evil.

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