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Vatican officials are up in arms over this "jailhouse confession" story. The Pope has asked that evidence in this case be destroyed. Talk-show host Michael Reagan (did I call him 'Ron' last month?) complains about some "higher authority." Meanwhile, three Eugene teenagers remain dead.
Michael Reagan insists it occurred in a "bugged Confessional." Actually, it took place in the "waiting room," where visitors and inmates, separated by glass, converse over telephones.
Lawmakers scramble to introduce legislation to give ordained ministers the same privilege of confidentiality that licensed physicians and licensed attorneys have. However, doctors and lawyers are licensed by the state; ministers are not.
If prisoners need to practice their religion, the prison system should make every effort to accommodate them -- within reason. I see no difficulty with scheduling confidential confession rites for Catholics. If I want to be free from religion, I need to support others' rights to practice religion. To deny religion to prisoners would be cruel and unusual.
But placing an ordained minister on the same par as a licensed attorney could take religious freedom back to the Middle Ages. The First Amendment means that the state cannot decide church policy, and vice versa. Rather than skirt or change laws, Catholic priests should simply schedule rites so that there is no mistake about what is needed for the rite -- in this case, privacy.
Ministers must remain private citizens in the eyes of the state. If we grant privilege to ministers simply because a Catholic Confession needs to be private, we must act similarly for religions with other needs. And ministers could then use their office to thwart laws that private citizens must obey. (Hear that Rev. Greer?)*
This could open up a whole can of worms: surfing the WEB last week, I came across Rev. Hensley's Universal Life Church WEB page. It said, "Click here to become an ordained minister" -- so I did! Perhaps I can skirt some laws because my name is now...
-- Rev. Cliff Walker
Footnote: * This refers to when Rosie Greer spoke with murder suspect O. J. Simpson, but because he was a minister was not forced to testify as to what Simpson told him -- regardless of whether Simpson had been seeing Greer under the auspices of religion.
Copyright ©1996 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon