The letter is wrong. It’s Wednesday, not Monday. And it’s 8:00 AM, not 9:00 AM.
You might think that my reasons for not wanting to sit on a jury are tantamount to criminal contempt of court. I disagree. I want to serve society in whatever capacities I am able to do this; sitting on a jury is not one of those capacities. But “a judge” is forcing the issue after I’ve been granted a reprieve for the same reason. This is the third time.
All are aware that I’m a Catholic priest who hears confessions also behind a screen, not only in my parish, but all over this region and more. Indeed, I’m Pope Francis’ own Missionary of Mercy to do just this, having special faculties other priests don’t have, you know, for the big sins. Both Catholics and non-Catholics can come and bare their souls in a voluntary manner, at ease, with no external consequences, so as to at least start to get themselves going in the right direction before they die. I always hold the confessions of those who are not Catholic to be under the seal of confession as they may be working their way up to that, and are trusting in the seal of confession (which is also the beginnings of the faith as a catechumen, right?). I cannot mess with that. Anyway, all such confessions are more than just under oath because of the circumstances; they are serene and truthful. Sure, prosecutors and police would want to hear such confessions repeated by me say, in a murder case, so that they can interrogate the person about prior knowledge, accomplices, other circumstances, future plans, etc. But I cannot break the seal, and I might not know who it is, even after decades of his or her coming to confession to me even from around the region, the country, the world, but always behind a screen. It is what it is.
But say a judge insists I sit on a jury. Am I not then at risk of breaking the seal of confession by sitting through the process. The very first question of the Clerk of Court is whether we know any of the plaintiffs or defendants. I then respond that I will not say, one way or the other, for truly, even if I don’t recognize them by looking at them, they could have come to confession to me behind a screen so that I’ll only recognize them after the unrepeatable details come out in court. The fact of the matter is that pretty much everything comes to the priest by way of confession regardless of the religion of the people involved. Around here, tiny towns, back mountain ridges, pretty much everyone is related to everyone a thousand times over. And I hear confessions all over the region, the USA, the world.
Anyway, for having said that I will not say, I will be told that I risk criminal contempt of court. The defendant will recognize what’s going on and start howling that he never came to confession to me (even if he did so, multiple times). Even if he doesn’t scream and howl, the jury pool will have to think that I am being obstinate and risking jail because of having heard his confession on this very matter. They will know that, you know, I’m one of those strange Catholic priests who hears confessions and respects the seal of confession. Not answering is a felony on my part for contempt of court.
Not answering is also another felony called jury tampering. The entire jury will think, rightly or wrongly, that the defendant confessed to me and will hold him to be guilty regardless of their being instructed to ignore me while I’m cuffed and led off to jail. And then the judge will have to listen to the objections of the defense attorney, who will say that this is not even to be judged a mistrial, but that the case is to be dismissed in such manner that the defendant can never be tried for this crime again, for, as it is, he could never get a fair trial again anywhere. But if the trial continues, and the fellow is innocent (innocent until proven guilty, right?), then basically I myself have just murdered him. There is capital punishment in North Carolina. I cannot participate in the murder of anyone.
After signing in for the selection, I’m guessing that I’ll skip going into the court room and ask what the penalty is for not participating, still not knowing the people involved or the charges brought against the defendant. I will then be brought before the judge who will then pass sentence. Of course, I will appeal with the Becket Fund to help. That would be the Supreme Court of the United States vs. North Carolina. Not what I wanted.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff has already told me that I should just go through the entire selection process and then answer the final question to me as to whether any of the objections to knowledge that I may or may not have would prejudice my decision in any way. Of course there would be a prejudice in favor of the defendant if I did hear his confession. So, what they are doing is stacking the jury, which is also a crime, is it not? I’m not going to say that I heard the person’s confession on this matter. That would make me all of a sudden a witness, even though it seems that this was just a cleverly phrased way of doing a bit of jury tampering. Of course, I don’t think for a second he or anyone else involved sees it that way. Baptists (the Sheriff was a Baptist minister until his election) just don’t see the point of Catholic ways even though what we do is commanded by our Lord and written about in the Sacred Scriptures and one can in fact reason about it. Again, the question as to whether I would be prejudiced in possibly having heard the person’s confession (which is unknown even to me as the person may have come to confession behind a screen) is very close to my saying that I did hear the person’s confession. That’s really the impression the rest of the jury pool will receive. Regardless of the guilt or innocence of the defendant, I will have just sent him to death row.
I cannot break the seal of confession or imply that I heard a confession when I did not, as that would have, as I say, murderous consequences. What is it that Law Enforcement wants of me? What is it that the Court wants of me?
What’s happening when Catholic priests are not given an exemption (now almost nowhere in the United States; this is something new in most places), is that grave injury is done to the free exercise of religion and grave injustice is done to the defendant, who may well be innocent. There is no more Constitution in these United States it seems. No one gives a damn about due process any more it seems.
In the end, having a Catholic priest assigned to jury is an act of hatred for God and neighbor, an act of hatred very specifically of the faith, the Sacred Heart of the Faith.
What I fear is my own weakness. The only priests who will object to my objections are weak and politically correct and always looking for the easy way out, never the cross. Am I not like that kind of priest? I am, surely, without a doubt. Perhaps because I think I’m “somebody.” Only those who have the grace to know that they are “nobody” and who therefore don’t have anything whatsoever to lose will go ahead and risk everything.
What I’m afraid of is that I would have a reaction to the pepper spray not infrequently used in jails, a reaction because of a medical condition. My throat would immediately swell tight shut and I would suffocate much faster than they could bring me to the hospital. I guess I shouldn’t care, right? I should be “nobody”, right? But I’m just me. God help me.