Repost (because now all sorts of states in these USA are pushing for making the fact of the Seal of Confession a felony offense). ///
Back in the day, when I was a freshman at a new public high school, with between one and two thousand kids, the incoming class was broken up into small groups so as to have a special instruction. It amounted to telling us what statutory rape was in my home state. At the time, they said, it amounted to sex with anyone under sixteen years of age, regardless of consent of the other, regardless if one was also under sixteen years of age. “Just don’t do it!” was the advice. “Isn’t that obvious?” thought I. I’m sure all those laws in all states have been radically revised in any number of ways, and not necessarily for the benefit of the other person.
I almost never ever look at the stats page. I used to do that once in a while, but now not so much. I just happened to see this search query on my stats page: “can you confess statutory rape – catholic”. An entire spectrum of motivations are possible for someone to do such a search. Leaving aside motivations of a journalist, et alii, let’s just take two scenarios.
Let’s say a minor “confesses” that someone not a minor has taken advantage sexually. Kids can get confused and feel guilty in a situation in which they were victims. The priest is to set the youngster straight about this and speak to the possibilities of revealing the crime to proper authorities, making sure the youngster knows that this is a good idea, and that because of the seal of confession, the priest can’t do this himself, not having been told this outside of confession.
As an aside, I would say that a priest is NOT always to encourage that the victim reveals the crime to the proper authorities. For instance, in Islamicist countries, such a girl, claiming rape, would simply be stoned to death by “four pious men.” I bet that Islamic State rape lovers will complain that I’m not being nice to them and should be ashamed of myself for not breaking the seal of confession and turning the girl over to them for stoning myself. Really, I won’t do that.
Diversely, let’s say that a middle-aged man confesses that he took advantage of a minor in a sexual manner. The priest is to give all the proper advice about turning himself in to the proper authorities and getting help to sort out any psychological idiocies that would open himself up to doing such a crime. But, then, as far as the sin goes, yes, he can confess that under the sacramental seal of the sacrament of confession and, all things being equal regarding true repentance, amendment of life, etc., he may be given absolution for the sin.
As an aside, again, I would say that a priest is NOT always to encourage that the criminal reveals himself to the proper authorities, depending on the local circumstances. Say, for instance, that he is in a jurisdiction where most if not all those on an offender list were put to death sooner than later by other prisoners. That’s common.
Anyway, it seems that some people get upset over such an absolution since they think that it is a kind of permission to those who are not repentant to go ahead and repeat the same behavior. No. Anyone seeking absolution under those circumstances, or any priest giving an absolution in such circumstances, commits a sacrilege and is risking going straight to hell.
I’ve said this before on this blog, but no priest is going to turn anyone over to the police. Priests are not police in the confessional. They have a different role to play. You might well be encouraged strongly to turn yourself in, but your absolution does not depend on your agreeing to that. You’ll just be given a penance that you can do, and then given absolution, again, all things being equal.
And things are not “always equal.” For instance, someone may not be willing to give up their porn addiction which, among other things, has clearly led them to do such crimes, with them saying only that they promise not to go out and do such a crime again. No. That doesn’t cut it. No absolution for that one. The seal of confession cannot be broken even in this case.
Look: one turns away from sin by being turned to the Lord Jesus, who doesn’t tolerate any such impurity of heart, any such lack of agility in the soul. If one has no fear at all of the Lord, who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire, then that person is well and truly risking going straight to hell. It’s better to go to heaven, is it not? Jesus is good and kind and true and just. He will make a radical conversion possible, for it is then His grace gained in His own justice on the cross, not anyone’s stupid determination to use a strength he doesn’t have in the first place.
Conclusion: Yes, return to the Lord for an absolution; return with repentance. You will be shown the goodness and kindness of Jesus Himself. If you have no repentance, you’ll be given quite the reprimand. But that will do you good as well, preparing you for a proper confession of sin and change of life. Praise the Lord.
© 2023 Fr George David Byers
5 responses to ““can you confess statutory rape – catholic” (search entry logged in stats). Priest responds.”
Beautiful piece of writing. Please keep reminding people that you do not ‘rat them out’ in confession to the authorities. I know of people who are afraid to go and not because of sexual sins or serious crimes – just what they think are terrible. It is a shame thing – please continue to remind people confession is totally sealed. I have told folks this but it is more assuring coming from a priest.
At church I teach the first confession classes how to examine their conscience and I definitely tell the older children/adolescents that it is a grave sin for unmarried people to have sex (fornication). Statutory rape is a civil law term that I understand to have to do with the fact that underage youth do not have the legal ability to give consent. Civil law correctly recognizes that in their immaturity and relative weakness, an adult having sex with them in any circumstances is taking advantage of them, preying on them. But I would defend that children and adolescents can also understand that fornication is wrong and courageously resist it in those situations where it is not a matter of coercion or physical force overwhelming them. [[Saint Maria Goretti. Pray for us!]]
Being consistent in teaching children that husband and wife have an absolutely unique relationship and sex must be ONLY between husband and wife and is for having babies protects the children by making the boundaries clear. If you are not married, then a sexual situation is an unsafe situation, a situation to get out of and get help from a safe adult. The culture of consenting fornication being normalized in all the media and in the society we are all immersed in is itself extremely dangerous to children. Getting consent before fornicating is even promoted on bus ads in my city (without any caveats in the ad about whether minors can or should do so). Anyone practicing or defending fornication is offending against children, to my mind.
God wants to have mercy on all and say to all “go, and sin no more.”
There was a situation a few years ago where I live, in which children were being abused; the older children by the priest, the younger children by the older children. The mother was a church employee at the parish in which the priest abused her children. When the younger children said they thought their brothers were abusing them, their mother took the naive position that the boys, ages 10-14, didn’t know about sex…instead of calling the police immediately upon learning that the 5 year olds alleged abuse, she called a family member, who came over to talk to the accused and learned it was true; the priest had given them drugs, alcohol and pornography and abused the boys, who then abused the girls.
She still didn’t call the police but instead went to confession, knowing that the priest she spoke to was a) a mandated reporter and b) bound to the seal of confession. Later, she reported to the police that the priest had not fulfilled his duty by reporting a crime against the children as required by the law.
There was an investigation that found he was not culpable as she told him in confession. I would also argue that the mother had a duty to her children which she didn’t fulfill, first, by allowing her boys to spend time alone with the priest; second; by failing to take action upon the younger children’s accusation of abuse; third, by trying to weasel out of responsibility for her children by attempting to shove the responsibility onto the priest.
Sadly, Father is currently assigned to that parish, which is a difficult assignment right now. They didn’t like the one they were sent after the bad apple went to prison and got rid of him; the one who went next is on leave as it got to be a bit much for him.
I’m told that when friends go on tiny little pilgrimages there, people comment about Father’s fan club so have therefore developed an opinion of the parishioners.
What bothers me the most about the mother of those children isn’t even her failure to protect her children but her desire to transfer the blame to a priest who had nothing to do with the situation; it’s the sullying of the reputation of a lovely priest. I need to visit his parish soon but am committed to Divine Mercy programming at my priest friend’s parish.
On another blog a priest commented one time that he arranges his Mass preparations in such a way as never to have to be in the sacristy at the same time as the altar servers. It was his effort to avoid the possibility of an accusation, but it struck other readers including me as being terribly sad. I don’t think letting her children be alone with a priest (who SHOULD BE a person one can trust, and she didn’t know that this man was untrustworthy) is necessarily one of the things to fault this mom for. The guilt belongs to that priest who acted in an extraordinarily evil way. I definitely fault her for expecting the other priest to violate the confessional seal.
Smart of the priest in the opening sentence. I always do that in parishes I’m in charge of, even creating new sacristies.