Polish reporter excommunicated after posing as abusive priest

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WARSAW (RNS/ENI) A Roman Catholic bishop in Poland has excommunicated a journalist after he posed as a priest and secretly recorded a confession for an article about sex abuse by priests.

“The sacrament of penance and reconciliation requires proper understanding and the greatest reverence,” said Bishop Piotr Libera of Plock. “Any profanation of this sacredness deserves severe and unqualified condemnation.

“To use the sacrament for some dishonest, cynical and deceitful game aimed at striking the confessor is comparable to lifting one’s hand against the Blessed Sacrament.”

The incident involves a reporter for the weekly Fakty i Mity newspaper who posed as a monastic priest. The reporter went to confession at a church in Sonsk in early September, telling a priest there he had abused a young girl during a seaside holiday with a Catholic youth group.

The newspaper said the priest absolved the undercover reporter without asking about the victim or possible compensation, and told him to read Psalm 131 as penance.

“It was thus demonstrated how this divine institution, which imposes a curse for using a (recording device), doesn’t even punish the harming of the most defenseless,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

In a statement on his diocese’s Web site, the bishop invoked a 1988 decree from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that imposed automatic excommunication for recording and publishing the contents of a confession.

The newspaper, in turn, accused the bishop of “making a gaffe,” adding that the undercover journalist — who is a former Catholic priest — could not be excommunicated since he no longer belonged to the church.

“Confessional secrecy only applies to the confessor — penitents can talk about the confession at will without any canonical sanctions,” the weekly said. “The church is trying to shield its priests and archaic customs from being compromised, devising penalties for everyone who dares unmask and publicize its absurdities.”

Libera said he was asking priests conducting confessions for “extra vigilance towards possible attempts at deceitful approaches to the confessional ….”

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