What about the seal?

What about the seal?

The disturbing case of Msgr. Dale Fushek, Life Teen founder and former vicar general in Phoenix, moves forward by inches. He’s now seeking a jury trial six of seven misdemeanor sex charges; at the moment he’s due to be judge by a Justice of the Peace.

I’m a little disturbed by an element of his defense, but I will admit that since we don’t know the full details there might be more to story that mitigates this question. Among the accusations against Fushek are claims by five men who were teens in the 1980s and early 1990s who said that Fushek engaged in them in “explicit conversations about sex,” invited one into his bed “engaging in kissing and snuggling,” and exposing himself to the same boy.

On the charge regarding the explicit conversations, Fushek’s lawyers claims that the conversations about sex took place in the confessional.

Hoidal has argued that Fushek was counseling the boys as a priest and his actions are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. “Premarital sex and masturbation are sins that must be confessed according to the church,” Hoidal wrote. “By attempting to punish Monsignor Fushek for inquiring about these sins, the State is preventing him from fully practicing his religion. Fushek’s views on the sexual issues should not be subject to censorship because they are part of his religion.”

Now hold on a minute: If these conversations were part of confessions how can Fushek be talking about them? In order for the lawyer to tell the media that the conversations were part of confessions, then Fushek had to have told the lawyer details of the nature of the confessions. That’s a violation of the seal, is it not?

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  • Maybe, but not necessarily.

    Something like the following would be okay:

    “I cannot say anything about any conversations, with anyone, in the sacrament of confession. But if the accusers are referencing conversations that took place in the sacrament, then discussing such matters as are alleged would be appropriate, and necessary, etc.”

    I.e., it depends on whether he indicated, in any way, that any of the accusers actually came to confession.

    (Now, perhaps someone else here can say more on this: it may be that simply saying someone came to me, for confession, doesn’t break the seal. However, I make it my practice never to reveal even that someone came to me; not even to the person who came! Because unless the penitent wants it acknowledged, outside confession, that he came to me, it is not for me ever to reference that again.)

  • One can not protect Confession with enough vigor.

    To me, nothing can be said or allegedly said. It must be as if nothing ever happened publicly from the voice of the priest. No who,where or what said. Otherwise, the sanctity of the seal is eroded, even broken. This regrettably is a risk confessors take. To me they are defenseless if accused of anything in the Confessional except to protest innocence.

    Violation of the seal or abuse of Confession I understand to be a most serious matter, with the resolution reserved to the Holy Father.I would tread lightly, very lightly (in fact, I would be totally silent regarding Confession) if I was the Msgr.

    Hopefully Ed Peters will chime in with a canonical analysis.

  • More likely, I think, is that it’s the lawyer who is not appreciating the seriousness of the seal of the confessional and is trying to do a little spin.
    Is Father then under a duty to say, “no, no, no it’s nothing to do with the Sacrament of Confession,” in order to avoid any scandal?
    I would think he is but still, it’s a whole different ball game.

  • If what he said was, “You know, if you have been masturbating, that needs to be confessed” then his comments have nothing to do an actual confession.