Why the seal of the confessional will remain

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has published a 2000-page three volume Criminal Justice Report.

One of its recommendations is that the states and territories “create a criminal offence of failure to report targeted at child sexual abuse in an institutional context”.

If such an offence were created, those of us who work in an institution which cares for children would be required to report to police if we knew, suspected or should have suspected that another adult working in the institution was sexually abusing or had sexually abused a child.

Failure to report could result in a criminal conviction.

The commission notes: ‘We acknowledge that if this recommendation is implemented then clergy hearing confession may have to decide between complying with the civil law obligation to report and complying with a duty in their role as a confessor.’

Being a priest and a lawyer, I welcome the recommendation of this new criminal offence in most instances, but I will continue to comply with my duty as a confessor.

The public, and not just my fellow Catholics, are entitled to know why.

I am one of those Australians who has been shocked and revolted by the revelations of child sexual abuse at the royal commission.

I had no idea that such abuse was so prevalent in our society.

I am one of those Catholics who is deeply ashamed and numbed by the statistics of abuse in my own Church and the failures, especially before 1996, to deal adequately with reports of abuse.

I welcome the royal commission’s spotlight on our society and on my Church.

It is not surprising that the royal commission has looked closely at any distinctively Catholic practice, culture or tradition wondering whether it might be a contributing factor to abuse or cover-up.

Some Australians, including some members of the royal commission and their staff, have suspected that the Catholic practice of confession has contributed to abuse and cover up.

I don’t think it has, and that’s why I will continue to honour the seal of the confessional.

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