This week, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, issued a document defending the sacramental seal, as civil governments in California, Australia, and other places attempt to pass laws that would force priests to reveal what they hear in the confessional.
Piacenza also defended professional confidentiality, including the pontifical secret, and appeared to take aim at the use of leaked Vatican information in the media – suggesting leaks from the Vatican are detrimental to the public good.
“In a time of mass communication, in which all information is ‘burned’ [leaked] and with it often unfortunately also part of people’s lives, it is necessary to re-learn the strength of word, its constructive power, but also its destructive potential,” the cardinal warned.
Following a year in which scandals of episcopal misconduct and accountability have combined to create a crisis of confidence in Church leadership in some places, reaction to the application and violation of confidentiality in the Church illustrates the emerging fault lines in a debate between parts of the hierarchy and faithful, in which both sides accept the need for transparency, though often with very different understandings of the word.
In his defense of the need to respect administrative (rather than sacramental) secrecy, Piacenza cited the Catechism, which teaches that “the right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional.”
It is easy to think of ecclesial examples in which confidentiality, even secrecy, are for the good of souls, as Piacenza argued. For example, discretion about the Vatican’s support for evangelization efforts in persecuted areas, most notably in China and the Arabian Peninsula, is manifestly in the interest of the good of souls.
But consensus breaks down quickly when discussions about confidentiality turn to how much the faithful will be told about misconduct in the Church.
Bishops in Rome and the U.S. concede that the faithful have a right to know that a scandalous situation is being handled. But, as the ongoing fallout from the disgrace of Theodore McCarrick shows, many Catholics have lost trust that the root causes of sexual scandal are addressed with, the laicization of a cardinal notwithstanding.
The faithful in the United States are still waiting for the results of a promised Vatican investigation into McCarrick’s rise to prominence despite decades of allegations. Following the dramatic statements of Archbishop Vigano, many remain concerned that whatever public report is released will be sanitized and omit reference to those ignored allegations or benefited from McCarrick’s patronage over the years.
Those concerns have been amplified by the case of former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield, who has been the subject of scandal and investigation since his resignation last year.
Read more at Catholic News Agency