Questions cropping up about the seal of Confession

Questions cropping up about the seal of Confession Fr Stiopháin Ó Fearchair PP of Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo appears on chat show Comhrá on TG4.

What I like about TG4 is that it’s low key, not polluted by minor celebs and pointless controversies. There are some great re-runs of old TV shows (not sure how this fits in the mission), some high class Irish language programmes (the mission) with some excellent traditional music shows.

Comhrá (TG4, Thursday) is a chat show with a simple format, presented by Máirtín Tom Sheáinín, whose guest was Fr Stiopháin Ó Fearchair PP of Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo. His vocation story had familiar features – he was influenced by an uncle who was a priest (‘an absolutely lovely man’), by the priests who taught him in St Jarlath’s College and by chaplain in college. With role models being so crucial in so many vocation stories there’s a big problem when today such role models are thin on the ground. After a vocations weekend, an invitation and some so prayer he had no clear answer he decided to give it a go. He found he had more freedom when he went to Maynooth compared to his time in the junior seminary – this was mid-sixties and Maynooth was becoming more open. He came from the parish of Neale and said his first Mass where he was baptised and confirmed. He told how the term ‘boycott’ was coined in this area (the story of Captain Boycott during Land League times), his time as a Dean of boarders in St Jarlath’s, and his ministry in Knock, where a great uncle of his had received a miraculous cure – the family was convinced but it wasn’t one of the ‘official’ miracles. He was happy now in Ballyhaunis where the arrival of the Halal meat factory had changed the place – now when he visits the local primary school he meets children of all religions from all corners of the world.


I thought the questions could have been more reflective and searching (there was a lot of narrative and factual information) but there was a curious banter about Confession. The interviewer said “you don’t sin do you?” Fr Ó Fearchair responded with a twinkle in his eye – “I’m not telling you my sins… I’m not in the Confession box now”. The interviewer responded “So you can’t grant forgiveness to yourself then?” Despite the drop in vocations he was optimistic about the future of the Church, though that future was unclear. While the show was enjoyable I’d have liked more depth, and that ‘sitting room’ looked like a fake studio setting – coldly tiled and way too bright. The dodgy electric fire didn’t help.

The question of Confession also featured in a discussion on Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster) about the awful Church-commissioned report on clerical child abuse by clergy in France over the last seven decades. Though there had been reported cases in France previously journalist Lara Marlowe said it was the scale of the abuse that caused so much shock. She said the current Church authorities had expressed shame and horror and that President Macron had saluted the “spirit of responsibility” of the Church (presumably in relation to the current approach). There was still controversy over reparations and what she called “the idea” that the seal of the confessional was sacred.

The Irish Catholic Editor Michael Kelly made a distinction between that seal and the different situation where a priest would admit to his own religious superior that he was guilty of abuse. Further, there was the possibility that a confessor could get the abusing priest to give himself up to the civil authorities – otherwise he’d question how sincere the repentance was.


A lesser-known instance of injustice being inflicted on the vulnerable was the subject of Unreported World (Channel 4, Friday). Reporter Ayshah Tull explored the story of missing Native American women in the USA. It was a story of another ‘institutional blind spot’, of poverty and homelessness, alcoholism and domestic violence and grim human trafficking stories. Added to the difficulties of investigation were jurisdictional problems, clashes or gaps between federal law, state law and the tribal law of the reservations.

To illustrate the situation the focus was mainly on the search for one missing woman – Susan Lacee Fast Eagle-Chief Eagle, conducted by a private investigator Lisa Willowbird-Chase. Unfortunately there was no closure, no neat solving of the case.

Nevertheless there were people who cared – the investigators, family members and those who ran the secret sanctuary for trafficked women – a place of refuge with a beautiful mural of Psalm 121 on the wall.


Pick of the week
My Country, My Faith: Ireland – Frank Duff
EWTN Sunday, October 17, 10.30 am

Fr Owen Gorman talks with Fr Bede McGregor about servant of God, Frank Duff’s intense love of the Eucharist.

Scotland’s Sacred Islands
BBC One Sunday October 17, 11.30 am

Ben Fogle explores Catholic island life and whether the physical aspect of the landscape makes it easier to make spiritual connections.

A Service of Reflection and Hope
BBC One NI Thursday, October 21, 10.30 am

That controversial service, live from St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, Church leaders are joined by invited guests for a service marking the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.