Vatican confirms seal of confession not up for debate


The Vatican has told Australian Catholic Church leaders that the seal of confession can never be violated and is not debatable.

This remains the case, even in cases where a victim disclose sexual abuse to their confessor or an abuser confesses their actions.

“A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.”

The confessor may encourage a victim to seek help outside the confessional or, when appropriate, to report an instance of abuse to the authorities,” the Vatican said.

The Vatican told the Australian Catholic Church leaders that seal of confession “is one of great delicacy and that it is related intimately with a most sacred treasure of the Church’s life, that is to say, with the sacraments.”

It “provides an opportunity – perhaps the only one – for those who have committed sexual abuse to admit to the fact.”

“Were it to become the practice, however, for confessors to denounce those who confessed to child sexual abuse, no such penitent would ever approach the sacrament and a precious opportunity for repentance and reform would be lost.”

The comments came in a series of “observations” to the August 2018 response of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Catholic Religious Australia to the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, published in December 2017.

The final report from Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013 to 2017) consisted of 17 volumes and 189 recommendations.

The Commission recommended that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference request three specific changes for the Vatican to consider:

  • introducing voluntary celibacy for clergy
  • ending the seal of confession for cases of abuse
  • requiring that abusers confess to the police before sacramental absolution can be given.

The Australian bishops’ conference responded saying it would comply with 98 percent of the Commission’s recommendations, but rejected the call to remove the seal of the confessional.

The Vatican noted many of the Royal Commission’s recommendations have already been enacted for the universal Church, including  the proper vetting of candidates for episcopal office.

However, it has rejected the Commission’s recommendation that priestly celibacy should be voluntary rather than mandatory.

“While the Holy See accepts the good will of the Royal Commission in making the present recommendation, it wishes to emphasize the great value of celibacy and to caution against its reduction to a merely practical consideration…”

“With regard to any assertion of a link between celibacy and sexual abuse, a great deal of evidence demonstrates that no direct cause and effect exists…”

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australia bishops’ conference, says the ongoing public conversation about policies, practices and protocols will ensure that children and other people at risk are safe in our communities.

“It’s in this spirit that the observations have been published,” he says.


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