In June 2019, the Apostolic Penitentiary, a dicastery of the Roman Curia, issued a note reaffirming the inviolability of the sacramental seal.
The note said that “there seems to be a certain disturbing ‘negative prejudice’ expressed against the Catholic Church whose existence on one hand is culturally presented and socially re-constituted in light of the tensions that can occur within the hierarchy itself and, on the other, emanates from the recent dreadful scandals of abuse perpetrated by some members of the clergy.”
It continued: “This prejudice, forgetful of the true nature of the Church, of her authentic history and of the real, beneficial presence that she has always had and has in human life, sometimes transforms into the unjustifiable ‘claim’ that the Church herself, in certain matters, should conform her own juridical system to the civil systems of the states in which she is present, as the only possible ‘guarantee of correctness and rectitude.’”
It added: “The inviolable secrecy of Confession comes directly from the revealed divine right and is rooted in the very nature of the Sacrament, to the point of not admitting any exception in the ecclesial sphere, nor, least of all, in the civil one.”
As president of the French bishops’ conference, Moulins-Beaufort has spoken out on topics such as pandemic-related restrictions on public worship and changes to the country’s bioethics law.
Last December, he told CNA that “The Church in France is being jostled in many ways.”
On Tuesday, Moulins-Beaufort spoke at the launch of a report concluding that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.
The final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) said that an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns from 1950 to 2020.
Among the report’s 45 recommendations was a request for the Church to reconsider the seal of confession in relation to abuse.
It said: “Send a clear message from the Church authorities to penitents taking confession and to the faithful that the seal of confession may not derogate from the obligation provided for by the [French] Criminal Code -- which is, in the Commission’s opinion, compatible with the obligation of divine natural law to protect the life and the dignity of the person -- to report to the judicial and administrative authorities all cases of sexual violence inflicted on a child or a vulnerable person.”
The Oct. 7 statement on the French bishops’ conference website argued that confession offered a space in which abuse survivors could discuss their experiences.
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“Confession is also a moment during which a victim, for example, a child, can talk about what he or she has suffered, and be reassured of his or her innocence... because the certainty of secrecy allows him or her to share what is most difficult,” it said.
“This time can then be, with the encouragement of the priest who receives this confession, a first step in the liberation of the word, outside the sacrament.”
“The seal of confession has always been respected by the French Republic. It is the honor of the French Republic to respect the dignity of each person’s conscience.”