It seems that the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, like others around the country, immediately gets defensive when confronted with an issue involving a member of the clergy. The danger with this knee-jerk reaction is that the Catholic Church’s hierarchy comes across as being only interested in protecting its own.
The molestation of an underage Mahoning County girl has once again turned the spotlight on the church — and the Youngstown diocese's attempt to justify the behavior of the Rev. Michael Seifert, who failed to notify the police about the molestation years ago.
Michael Parent, 55, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was sentenced last week to 13 years for raping his stepdaughter while he lived 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 girl went to Father Seifert and spoke about the assaults when she was 15. The priest did not go to the police.
The diocese considers the conversation to be a confession, which is protected by a seal that cannot be broken under any circumstances. The Code of Canon Law governs such issues.
“The sacramental seal is inviolable; 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,” said Rev. Monsignor Peter Polando, adjutant judicial vicar of the diocese.
But here’s where the church stumbles in its attempt to defend Father Seifert.
According to Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, the priest has been “completely cooperative” with the investigation. When he was questioned by investigators, he confirmed that the victim had reported the assaults to him.
So, did the priest break the seal — or did he talk to investigators because he did not believe that the victim had made a confession, that she was simply telling him about her being raped by her stepfather in the hope that this man of God would go to the appropriate authorities?
However, if he did consider his conversation with the victim to be a confession under church law, what action will the bishop take against him for breaking the seal?
Father Seifert, who served as associate pastor at St. Christine Church in 1984, is now in parishes in Alliance and Navarre.
Every Catholic knows the difference between going to confession and simply talking to a priest about things that may be on his or her mind.
The church has got to stop being defensive whenever the actions of its priests are called into question. In fact, the Catholic Church in America needs to cleanse its soul of the sins of its pedophile priests.