Is Abusing Children Sexually A Spiritual Encounter With God? Identifying And Responding To Fake News
by Rajkumar Richard
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What do you do when a church leader describes sexual abuse of children as a spiritual encounter with God? What do we do when abuses against the Christian church goes viral on the internet?
Recently a news flash accusing the Archbishop of the Catholic Church went viral on the internet. Apparently, this man claimed that Pedophilia Is ‘Spiritual Encounter With God:’1
One of the highest-ranking officials in the Catholic Church says sexually abused children can experience “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” while being molested.
Australia’s most powerful clergy, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, says the Catholic practice of confession is satisfactory for dealing with pedophilia in the church as it helps priests absolve “their own guilt” after sexually abusing children.
Asked whether he was prepared to be jailed for failing to report child sex abuse by Catholic pedophile priests, Archbishop Hart confirmed he was willing to serve prison time. He also claimed the right to cover for pedophiles in the church is an “absolutely sacrosanct communication of a higher order.“
He made the shocking statement in response to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which stated there should be “no excuse, protection nor privilege” for Catholic clergy who failed to alert police of abuse within the church.
But Archbishop Hart disagreed and insisted that sexual abuse was “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” and was “of a higher order” than criminal law.
Online news is gaining popularity. Harvard University quotes Pew Research Center’s finding that “people under age 50 get half of their news online. And for those under 30, online news is twice as popular as TV news.”2But not everything that we read online is factual.
Let us be diligent when we encounter derogatory news against Christianity. Beware of fake news websites and the detractors of Historic Christianity, whose intent is to spread lies in order to abuse Christians and Christianity.
In fact, the news about the Archbishop of the Catholic Church is fake/false news. Take time to verify the credibility of the news that you read. Do not share anything and everything that you read. Respond only to the credible news items.
There are quite a few fact-checking websites that identify fake news; some of which are:
These fact-checking websites will enable us to verify the high-profile and international news. These websites may not be of much help in verifying the credibility of the local news – local church politics, accusations against your church leaders etc. Double-check or triple-check your local news with credible sources.
Snopes.com has determined the news about the Australian Archbishop as fake, “Fake news web sites gave a blatantly manufactured account of a statement by Archbishop Denis Hart.” Furthermore, Snopes offers a detailed description of this fake news:3
In 2017, after a five-year investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia, a specially-appointed Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse published their findings.
The report included a section on criminal justice reform, including a recommendation that clergy members become legally-mandated reporters of abuse, even if they obtain the information during the rite of confession.
The notorious fake news web site Neon Nettle reported that Archbishop Denis Hart, a leading member of the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, had rejected the confessional proposal and shockingly, described sexual abuse as a spiritual encounter:
Australia’s most powerful clergy [member], Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, says he’s prepared to be jailed for failing to report child sex abuse by pedophile priests. He made the shocking statement in response to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse saying there should be “no excuse, protection nor privilege” for clergy who failed to alert police of abuse.
Hart insisted that sexual abuse was “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” and was “of a higher order” than criminal law.
Neon Nettle correctly reported that the commission recommended “that there should be no excuse, protection nor privilege in relation to religious confessions” when it comes to the legal obligation to report suspected child abuse.
However, the claim that Archbishop Hart called sexual abuse a “spiritual encounter with God” is blatantly false. Despite that detail, the claim has been the basis of many subsequent republications and reiterations of Neon Nettle’s article — including one published by the equally dubious YourNewsWire.com — in February 2018.
In reality, Archbishop Hart said that confession, not sexual abuse, was “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest.” In a statement released in August 2017, Hart wrote:
Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest. It is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognised in the Law of Australia and many other countries. It must remain so here in Australia. Outside of this all offences against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.
It is true, however, that Archbishop Hart told Australian media that he would be willing to face criminal conviction and go to jail rather than report to police information about abuse that he had received in confession:
When asked if he would go to jail to uphold the sanctity of the confessional, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, told ABC Radio Melbourne he would.
“I’ve said that I would [go to jail.] I believe that this is an absolutely sacrosanct communication of a higher order.”
Archbishop Hart denied suggestions priests would be above the law.
“I would go to extreme lengths outside of the confessional to make sure that the law was observed,” he said. “But there are some matters which are of a higher order, things to do with God.”
In its proposal to change Australian law and remove the confessional exemption from the obligation to report child sexual abuse, the Royal Commission said the right to religious freedom is “not absolute,” and should be limited in the interests of public safety:
We understand the significance of religious confession — in particular, the inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths, particularly the Catholic faith. However, we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators.
We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt. We heard evidence that perpetrators who confessed to sexually abusing children went on to reoffend and seek forgiveness again.
…We have concluded that the importance of protecting children from child sexual abuse means that there should be no exemption from the failure to report offence for clergy in relation to information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.
To conclude, the Internet allows the presence of the good, bad, and ugly. As diligent Christians, we should verify the credibility of every [contentious] news item we encounter on the internet and then respond appropriately. Let us not waste our precious time and energy in responding to the fake news on the internet and in the process let us not slander the names and reputations of organizations and individuals who have been falsely accused.
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Reader Count & Comments
Your source article is incorrect. I tweeted the journo, but article was not corrected. I'n no fan of the Catholic Church, but facts are important.
A good look at how so much distortion of the truth exists among us today. It used to take two witnesses to give credit to an accusation, but now we just seem to be drawn into believing any report that joins with our feelings or expectations about certain sensitive issues.
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