From Iceland — Priest Argues That Priests Are Above the Law

Priest Argues That Priests Are Above the Law

Published August 20, 2010

Reverend Geir Waage, the parish priest of Reykholt, believes that the church’s vow of silence takes precedence over the law when it comes to matters of sexual abuse, arguing that the sanctity of the confessional must be “all or nothing”.
As has been reported, the national church of Iceland has been encouraged to do more about matters of sexual abuse within its walls. Most recently, they have said they will begin using a rule they instated 12 years ago, wherein the bishop’s office may request any church employee to open their police record for review, with refusal resulting in termination.
However, the church has also been decidedly tight-lipped about the number of sexual abuses cases reported within its walls, with one spokesman telling reporters that there had been “more than one”, but refused to reveal more. They have furthermore stated that the vow of silence priests take means that matters of sexual abuse will be handled by the church, and not necessarily by the police – despite the fact that child protection laws require anyone who knows of an instance of sexual abuse to report it immediately to the police.
Reverend Waage takes the argument a step further, with Pressan reporting him saying that the vow takes precedence over the law. “That which a priest hears in the confessional must never, under any circumstances, go any further. The vow of silence is either all or nothing. The credibility of a priest is gone if people cannot rely on what they say to a priest staying with him.”
When the law regarding sex crimes against children is pointed out, Waage disagrees with the obligation to report such matters to the police, saying, “It is not possible to force men to report that which they’ve heard in confession.”
It should be noted that not every priest agrees with Waage. Reverend Kristján Björnsson has stated, for example, that priests who break the law can expect to lose their position. Waage, for his part, says he isn’t worried.
And this would be yet another example of why church and state need to separate in Iceland.

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