DAILY CATHOLIC MONDAY August 9, 1999 vol. 10, no. 148
NEWS & VIEWS
NEW INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT MAY REVOKE PRIEST-PENITENT PRIVILEGE
Pro-Life Groups Express Concerns about "Forced Pregnancy" Issue
NEW YORK, AUG 6 (ZENIT).- In ongoing meetings to refine aspects of the proposed International Criminal Court, the Canadian government has proposed that the new International Criminal Court revoke the centuries-old legal tradition that a Catholic priest may not be compelled to reveal what he hears in the confessional. This revocation would also apply to the private religious counseling of other faiths.
Such a change in procedure holds serious consequences for priests. By Canon Law, a priest who directly reveals secrets revealed in Confession is subject to automatic excommunication, whose forgiveness is reserved to the Apostolic See (Can. 1388 §1). Under the Canadian proposal, a priest who refused to speak would be subject to punishment by the court.
"The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion," reads Canon 983 §1. Over the course of the history of the Church, saints such as John Neppomuck have given their lives to protect this seal.
The International Criminal Court statue was passed in Rome last summer but will not go into effect until 60 governments ratify it. The ICC preparatory commission has been meeting over the past two weeks at UN headquarters in New York City to determine the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and the Elements of Crime.
The Rules of Procedure and Evidence being debated this week were drafted by a working group that met in Paris last April. The working group consisted mostly of NGOs rather than governmental officials. The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute reports that Kathryn Balmforth, a Utah-based civil rights attorney who follows the ICC for Brigham Young University Law School, said, "The group that met in Paris was a group of ideological NGOs promoting their own interests in controlling and manipulating proceedings within the court. The fix is in. This will not be a fair court but a left-leaning ideological one."
Pro-family attorneys and law professors are concerned about a whole host of issues related to the current ICC meetings. Chief among their concerns is the proposal of the Paris group to include victims as full and separate participants in the ICC proceedings. Western legal tradition allows victims to sue in civil actions that are separate from the criminal procedures. The current proposal would allow NGOs to stand in for the victims as well, and this is what worries pro-family attorneys the most. "This proposal would force the defendant to answer charges from many quarters all at once," said Balmforth. "This would turn the proceedings into a kangaroo court."
The question of "forced pregnancy" has also resurfaced at this meeting which ends next week. Against the wishes of radical feminists in Rome last year, UN delegates insisted that "forced pregnancy" could in no way refer to a woman's inability to get an abortion. The new proposal refers to the illegality of "keeping a woman pregnant" against her wishes. Some believe this is a back-door to an international right to abortion.
To date, only Senegal, Trinidad and Tobago, Italy, and Sao Tome and
Principe have formally ratified the ICC. The Holy See was influential in
the initial debates to pass the statute.
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NEWS & VIEWS