I read with amazement the state government of Victoria is considering legislation, which if passed would order priests to reveal the secrets of the confessional.
The Victorian govermental inquiry into child abuse is set to overturn centuries of Catholic tradition in relation to the sanctity of the confessional. Further the committee is suggesting that bishops could also face charges over the misconduct of their priests.
From the outset let me say that sexual abuse, under any circumstance, involving an adult or child, is a crime. It can never be condoned. It is the duty of society to do everything it can to eliminate it, in all forms, and in all places in society, not just in the Church.
The report suggest that mandatory reporting rules should be imposed on the confessional. In my view the Sacrament of Penance is a religious tradition which goes back many hundreds of years. It is my understanding (as I’m not Catholic), that the confessor does not “get off” for the sin or sins committed, and that a priest may delay or withhold absolution, if he believes the confessor to be less than genuine, or if he has doubts in respect of their resolve to avoid further sin. The priest may also set a penance which involves revealling the crime to civil authorities, before absolution is granted.
Further the report states “Should officials in religious and other organisations be held criminally responsible for the actions of perpetrators of child abuse in their employ or for whom they have responsibility?” In Ireland where similar laws were introduced, priests have vowed to disobey the laws, and as a result could be subject to 10 years inprisonment.
It is logical to expect that if legislation requires priests to divulge that passed betweeen the priest and the penitent in the confessional, then those contentious issues would not be revealled to the priest.
Father John Walshe of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy stated “Priests have in the past history of the Church been martyred for refusing to break the seal of the confessional and I believe priests today would continue to do the same.”
The inquiry is due to present its report to the Victorian in April 2013.
The content of the report or any aspect of it does not mean the automatic introduction or passage of legislation.
See more on this subject here and here
Further to the above story, I have now learned that the Premier of Victoria has stated publicly that current rites and practices will not be changed.