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For week ended August 29, 1999 Posted 4 Sep 1999

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War court threatens sanctity of confessional

Summarized by Kent Larsen

War court threatens sanctity of confessional
Ottawa Canada Citizen 28Aug99 L1
War court threatens sanctity of confessional

When Canadian lawyers drafted proposed rules for a new International Criminal Court, which would hear War crimes, earlier this year, they revoked attorney-client privilege in the draft and failed to mention priest-penitent privilege, leaving these rights out of the new court's rules. Without priest-penitent privilege, the court could compel Bishops, Stake Presidents and other clergy to testify against those that confessed to them.

In the face of criticism over the lack of protection for these privileges, the proposed rules were tabled at the United Nations (which is trying to create this permanent war crimes court) and the Canadians tried again. But according to BYU professor Richard Wilkins, the new draft isn't much better. "Depending on how this language is interpreted, there could be essentially no priest-penitent privilege in the ICC. And if the ICC goes around prosecuting without this privilege, its going to have the effect of encouraging states to abandon theirs."

Canadian civil rights activists are incensed over the proposal. Thomas Langan, president of Canada's Catholic Civil Rights League, said the original proposal was "an unprecedented offence to all Christians."

Wilkins, who heads BYU's World Family Policy Center, says that the loss of privilege isn't going to happen over night, but says it is still something that should be watched carefully. "The worry about this is, it's not a threat that is going to do this terrible thing," he said. "It's not going to undo the priest-penitent privilege in the next five years. But it may undo it in the next 25 years."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information