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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Does What Go On In The Confessional Stay There?

Under Pennsylvania law, statements made to a clergyman are considered confidential. But does that rule hold if someone tells his priest or rabbi that he is going to shoot up some school the next day? If a young girl tells a priest, over and over, that she is being raped, does he have an obligation to report the matter? These were the questions being tossed around in argument court before Judge Michael Koury yesterday.

A South Korean student attending PiusX High School was being molested by Richard Kim at the Ace Academy, a boarding house where she was staying during the school years. During mandatory confessions, where the kids speak confidentially to a priest inside of a confessional, she reported on four occasions that she was being raped. According to a complaint filed in Northampton County Court, the Diocese of Allentown failed to take any action.

The attorney representing this student argued that the Diocese had an obligation to make sure this child was safe when she left school, hinting that there was some sort of relationship between the school and the boarding house.

Attorney Jay Leeson, representing the Diocese, denied there was any relationship at all. He argued that was is said in a confessional should stay in the confessional. It is absolutely privileged. He referred to a state law that reads as follows:
No clergyman, priest, rabbi or minister of the gospel of any regularly established church or religious organization, except clergymen or ministers, who are self-ordained or who are members of religious organizations in which members other than the leader thereof are deemed clergymen or ministers, who while in the course of his duties has acquired information from any person secretly and in confidence shall be compelled, or allowed without consent of such person, to disclose that information in any legal proceeding, trial or investigation before any government unit.
The attorney representing the student (I neglected to get his name) argued she was not confessing or asking for forgiveness of sins. She was reporting a rape.

Was she really speaking secretly and in confidence? Was it really a confession? "Why do you think she was in a confessional?" asked Koury. "Was she going to blast it on the radio?"

The attorney responded she was forced to go to confession.

"What if I have no sins?" asked Judge Koury, who peppered the attorney on just how the student got here from South Korea. Was she sponsored by Pius? The attorney did not know. Leeson doubts it, but does not know for sure, either.

Leeson was challenged with all sorts of "what ifs". What if the student told a priest she was about to kill someone?

He insisted the privilege is absolute. This privilege, incidentally, extends back to the days of William the Conqueror. Pennsylvania law does require that child abuse be reported, but it seems that privileged confidential communications to clergy may supersede these mandatory reporting requirements.

So did a PiusX priest allow a girl to be raped repeatedly? According to The Express Times, it is actually a PiusX priest who did first report the abuse.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Leeson want's to be a Federal judge? What the hell is wrong with our Senator Bob Casey for recommending this asshole?

Bernie O'Hare said...

What on earth justifies this accusation based on this post? Leeson, representing the Diocese of Allentown, is arguing on behalf of his client. And incidentally, I believe he is correct.

watermelonpunchcom said...

I'm confused, I thought Catholic priests didn't divulge confessions from the guilty party, I didn't think they held back reports from victims. Unless of course the victim requested it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is a little confusing, and the allegations may not even be accurate.

Anonymous said...

I confess my love for the Mediterranean manmeat, the Bronzed Bethlehem Beefsteak, the Bro that put the Bro in Bromance, Jesus Jim Gregory.

Anonymous said...

The priest is a mandated reporter. He should have reported the abuse to authorities. He failed to do so, and he should be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

what gets said in the confessional is supposed to stay in the confessional! if that isn't case I won't be going anymore

Anonymous said...

There is a confidentiality exception to the CPSL, so if a perpetrator confesses to abusing a child the priest does not have to, and can not, report it. Technically, the priest may be able to hide behind the exception. Personally, I believe the priest is at fault as the spirit of the exception law is clearly to allow even the most depraved among us to confess our sins; not to allow a child to be subjected to further abuse.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, the article you link to does not indicate that it was a priest who reported the abuse. According to the article, and others I've read regarding the case, the victim confided in a friend, who told her mother in south korea, who then told the victim's mother. The victim's mother was the first to contact authorities.

I'd like to know what the priest said to the victim during her confession. Did he encourage her to confide in an adult or direct her to appropriate resources? Or did he give her ten hail marys and send her on her way?

Anonymous said...

Now I see how it works. Rape and sodomize innocent children, go to church and confess those sins, receive forgiveness for those sins, then go out and do it all over again. I can only wonder how many priests confessed their sodomizing acts to other priests, got forgiveness and then went on to rape and sodomize more innocent children.
Is that what the confessional booth is all about?
Reminds me of this story.
A drunk walking down the street walks into a Catholic Church and enters a confessional booth. The priest goes into the booth and waits for the drunk's confession. Nothing happened so the priest goes AHEM...AHEM...to let the drunk know he was there to hear his confession. Still nothing from the drunk so the priest kicks his foot against the booth and goes AHEM....AHEM.....The drunk responds saying......"Cheeeez oh willikers Buddeee....Knock it off already.......Ders no toilet paper on my side either.

Anonymous said...

"I can only wonder how many priests confessed their sodomizing acts to other priests, got forgiveness and then went on to rape and sodomize more innocent children."

My guess is thousands confessed. I would hope none were "forgiven". Religious people, how does this work? Does the priest have to absolve the penitent?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Koury's a Maronite Catholic and should have recused himself, rather than defend his faith.

The girl did not confess anything. She reported a rape. The priest had an obligation to stop the raping. If the rapist had confessed, it would be a different issue entirely.

Anonymous said...

@10:03: no need to get nasty with Bernie and his friend.

This is an interesting post. I think the priest has no issue reporting the rape to the police as this girl was not confessing her sins, but that of another. She may have been so traumatized that she only felt safe taking of this in a confessional. If I were the priest I would have asked her directly if she wanted me to go to the authorities and I would have offered her protection and sanctuary in the church if she felt she could not go home and be safe.

I do not believe that the priest/penantent applies here as this girl was not confessing her crime.

Priests at a school have an even more interesting situation because of mandatory reporting laws. However, I think the priest should have acted sooner for her and admire the priest who did ultimately do the right thing and report this.

Full disclosure... I am catholic and have issues with my religion and how it handles these issues especially recent issues.

Bernie O'Hare said...

What should Judge Koury recuse? This privilege applies to all clergy. You are being ridiculous.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bernie, the article you link to does not indicate that it was a priest who reported the abuse. According to the article, and others I've read regarding the case, the victim confided in a friend, who told her mother in south korea, who then told the victim's mother. The victim's mother was the first to contact authorities. "

Look at the end of the article and the remarks of DA Pat Brocious.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I think the priest has no issue reporting the rape to the police as this girl was not confessing her sins, but that of another. She may have been so traumatized that she only felt safe taking of this in a confessional. If I were the priest I would have asked her directly if she wanted me to go to the authorities and I would have offered her protection and sanctuary in the church if she felt she could not go home and be safe. "

That's about how i see it.

Anonymous said...

I see the Catholic haters are out in full force.
Every time you post an article like this, it is like the Reformation all over again.

Give it a rest. The Priest is under no obligation to absolve sins or offer penance.

Anonymous said...

"No clergyman, priest, rabbi or minister of the gospel of any regularly established church or religious organization, except clergymen or ministers, who are self-ordained or who are members of religious organizations in which members other than the leader thereof are deemed clergymen or ministers, who while in the course of his duties has acquired information from any person secretly and in confidence shall be compelled, or allowed without consent of such person, to disclose that information in any legal proceeding, trial or investigation before any government unit."

Request for a legal finding: does this mean the Fake Rev must spill the details on all those fake mustache rides? Please advise; thanks.

Anonymous said...

The priest is under no obligation to forgive sins that are discussed inside the confessional booth.Most catholics are sorry for their sins which is why they usually do receive absolution from the priest.
If an adolescent reported a rape to a priest during confession,that would not be a sin that the child was guilty of committing.The child needs no forgiveness. The child needs help. A smart priest might ask the child to discuss the matter outside of the confessional and a caring priest would suggest to the child that this heinous crime should be reported to someone in authority at the school or an adult that they trust so that this terrible abuse would never happen again to that child or any other child .That caring priest could also stay in contact with the child to determine if the child has been removed from the clutches of the predator who merits being put into a place where commiting that crime is not possible such as jail.
I don't think the priest is allowed to report the crime to the authorities himself as the confessional seal is an oath that doesn't have a loophole. The priest does have an obligation to help the child and a smart,caring priest would not have much of a problem making sure that the villain was put out of commission.

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Anonymous said...

Well said 3:38. I'd really like to know what the priest said in response to the victim reporting the abuse to him.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is from The Express times story, to which i link in my report above:

"During the sentencing, she also credited a Pius X priest with stepping forward and alerting authorities, she said. She confirmed tonight that the priest was willing to testify about the victim's confession at trial if needed."

So the factual situation described in the complaint may be inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like she's back-pedaling to me. I feel like the complainant wouldn't have filed suit against the archdiocese if the priest was the one who finally reported the abuse to the authorities.

Anonymous said...

Bernie...you cite PA. law but not other states. Do you know what happens elsewhere ? Also just because it may have been this way in the past doesn`t mean it shouldn't be changed.

Bernie O'Hare said...

In the course of researching this story (believe it or not, I research), I learned that some sort of a confessor-penitent privilege exists in all 50 states. It's apparently not the same in every state, at least according to Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priest%E2%80%93penitent_privilege

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting piece, Bernie. It's been a while since I worked in human services and specifically with CPSL, so admittedly, I am not up to date with mandated reporting laws. But, I think historically, there is a lot of confusion within reporting laws. Contact the caseworkers at the PA child abuse hotline and given the day, given the caseworker, you can receive conflicting information (I have), so they tend to err on the side of caution and assign an investigation for the local jurisdiction to investigate and evaluate and resolve in order to protect themselves(understandable).

Even in agencies (school, hospitals, child welfare agencies, etc...), there are internal protocols to use if one suspects abuse. Even though each worker in the particular system may be a mandated reporter, the agency guideline might say that the teacher needs to notify the guidance counselor, or the nurse needs to notify the hospital social worker, or the foster parent needs to notify the on-call foster care supervisor.

Tough, technically, the first point of contact is mandated to report directly to authorities, in many cases, it's agency specific. And then, it is the obligation of the "higher up" to decide whether to report as they presumably have more experience and expertise in these areas.

I think 7:28, 1:06, and 3:38 address some very valid points. I think the "loophole" is if a person walks into a confessional and says, "I've been abusing a young girl", the priest doesn't necessarily need to report as the "confession" is vague and non-specific, but the priest might and should encourage the person to seek help and/or turn himself into the authorities. However, if the girl came into the confessional and said that she is being abused by her caretaker (whether she believes it a sin or not), the priest should have followed the course that 3:38 laid out by speaking with the girl outside of the confessional and encouraging that they report it together, even if first to the child's parent assuming s/he is not the perpetrator. And, the priest should have followed up with his supervisor to determine if what was disclosed in and out of the confessional is mandated to be reported, which I believe it is.

If I'm not mistaken, the confessional "oath" is similar to therapist/patient confidentiality. If a patient reports, "I'm abusing a girl" versus "I'm abusing my daughter" (obviously, then, a known victim), the first statement is not reportable, but, I believe the second one is. In either case, the therapist should develop a safety plan, encourage the patient to get perpetrator-specific treatment if that is not the therapist's skill and discuss with the supervisor more definitive courses of action.

But again, refer to my first paragraph as their is ambiguity, even among professionals, as to what and when needs to be reported.

Anonymous said...

We get it Bernie. You don't like priests! You fixate over little children. river

Bernie O'Hare said...

"River" is Henry Schaadt, of Easton. He is one of several trolls who infest this blog, usually anonymously bc he is a coward.