The Diocese of Youngstown has issued a statement saying a priest was not wrong for failing to notify police about information he received years ago concerning the molestation of an underage girl.
Michael Parent, 55, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was sentenced Wednesday by Judge Lou A. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to 13 years in prison for raping his stepdaughter for years while living in Mahoning County. The rapes began in 1984 when the girl was 5 and did not end until 1996 when she was almost 18.
The victim, who is now 34, told authorities she went to the Rev. Michael Seifert and spoke about the assaults when she was 15, but the matter was never taken to police.
The diocese, in a press release issued Thursday afternoon, said it was not made aware of the issue or the allegations that Father Seifert did not report what the girl said to authorities until a story appeared in Thursday’s Vindicator, but church officials maintain that a priest cannot divulge information given in confidence.
Bishop George V. Murry of the diocese said the priest is duty bound to keep things disclosed to him in confidence.
“Catholics and most non- Catholics realize that the sacredness of the Seal of Confession cannot be broken under any circumstance,” Bishop Murry said.
Rev. Monsignor Peter Polando, adjutant judicial vicar of the Diocese of Youngstown, said the issue is addressed in the Code of Canon Law.
“The sacramental seal is invio-lable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason,” he quoted from the canon.
Canon law is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by an ecclesiastical authority for the government of the Christian organization and its members.
Monsignor Polando also said a priest cannot even acknowledge that a confessor has approached a priest for the sacrament of confession in protection of that sacred seal.
Father Seifert is no longer in Mahoning County, but the diocese made clear in the press release his transfer to a different location had nothing to do with the incident involving this victim.
Father Seifert was transferred in the normal process of reassigning priests within the six-county Diocese of Youngstown, the release said. Father Seifert served as associate pastor of St. Christine Church in Youngstown in 1984. He now pastors parishes in Alliance and Navarre, according to the diocese’s website.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said Father Seifert is not facing any criminal charges at this time, but his office is researching the matter to see if the priest was bound by law to report the abuse allegations.
“We don’t believe that he is a mandatory reporter, but we are looking at the issues to make that determination. ... We just have to really look at the law on this,” he said. “The priest has been completely cooperative with the investigation.”
Gains said that when questioned by detectives, Father Seifert confirmed that the victim reported the assaults to him.