More thought needed before law change about confession

More thought is needed before passing a law requiring priests in Australia to break the confessional seal to report cases of child sex abuse, says Victoria’s attorney general Martin Pakula.

In his view the government needs to further consider 24 of the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

He says of the commission’s recommendations, the Victoria government has accepted 128 and agreed another 165 in principle.

Pakula also says, rather than individual states making decisions about breaking the seal of confession, a “degree of national agreement” is needed.

Various decisions have been made by Australia’s state governments about the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

As an example, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania have already adopted laws making it illegal for priests to fail to report the confession of a child sex abuse crime.

However, as from October, in South Australia, priests who fail to report child sex abuse confessions will face a $7,400 fine.

In New South Wales, the state government is putting extra thought into the royal commission’s confessional seal recommendation.

It says this is a complex issue which it has referred to “the Council of Attorneys-General for national consideration.”

The Catholic Church in Australia has opposed laws mandating reporting from the confessional. Many priests have said they would go to jail before violating the seal.

The Code of Canon Law says “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.”

Priests who intentionally violate the seal are automatically excommunicated.

In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”


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