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Archbishop bans 80-year-old priest from confessional box

by Glyn Jones
Fr Connell.jpg - Banner image
Sheboygan Press file photo/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

An American priest has been banned from hearing confession and giving absolution after calling for centuries of Catholic Church law to be overturned.

The ban was made after Fr James Connell published an article arguing that when information about the abuse of a child or adult is disclosed in the confessional box, the priest's absolute duty to keep it secret should be waived. Instead, he believes the details should be passed on to the police.

The 80-year-old priest has been told the ban on him officiating at the sacrament of confession applies in America and worldwide. 

Fr Connell told Premier Christian News his initial reaction was "shock, pain and hurt - anger" but also "keeping calm and wanting to deal with this".

"We are at a point when we must remove the obstacle of confidentiality so that the police can do their job and protect children and vulnerable adults," he added.

"We should no longer hide criminals at the expense of endangering children and innocent people."

For the Archbishop of Milwaukee, the 80-year-old priest's arguments "distort the teachings of the Church about the confessional seal".

A statement from Most Rev Jerome Listecki said: "The false assertions of Fr James Connell have caused understandable and widespread unrest among the People of God, causing them to question if the privacy of the confessional can now be violated, by him or any other Catholic priest."

Fr Connell denies ever threatening to breach confidentiality unilaterally but says he wants the Catholic Church to change its rules.

The priest accuses the Archbishop of censorship and restricting his freedom of speech. He argues that canon law gives priests and lay people the right to speak out if they disagree with the church's hierarchy.

The confidentiality of the confessional box is a centuries-old tenet of Roman Catholicism. Priests have been willing to go to jail; some have died as martyrs to defend the practice's privacy.

The obligations of priests mean they cannot reveal any information about the sins a penitent has outlined. They cannot even confirm that a particular person has been to confession.

The statement from the American Archbishop concluded: "The Archdiocese of Milwaukee remains fully committed to the protection of all people from acts of abuse and neglect. 

"However, our commitment to this protection in no way allows us to endorse or advocate for any practice, policy, or legislative action that would threaten the inviolable nature of the confessional seal, and the clergy-penitent privilege."

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