I note that on the front page of today’s Newcastle Morning Herald (14/11/2012), that the premier of NSW. Mr Barry O’Farrell, has questioned the Catholic Church’s rule on reporting to police, admissions by priests of child sexual abuse made as part of a Confession.
I am not Catholic, but I understand that the seal of the Confessional is inviolable. Catholics understand that Confessions to their priest will remain confidential, as unsavoury as those Confessions may well be. This rite of confidentiality extends to all persons as part of the Confession, and that confidentiality includes priests themselves.
As part of the Rite of Confession, the priest may indicate a course of action which may include disclosure to police of illegal actions, and the witholding of absolution until an action is carried out. But it is up to the Confessor to carry out the actions as laid down in the Confessional. It is not, nor has it ever been, the role of the priest to disclose to police, or any other person, that which was heard during the course of a Confession.
Nor should this change.
If the NSW government make it a offence not to report a crime heard in a Confession, I suspect priests will choose to go to gaol rather than to make a disclosure.
But in real terms, only priests will know what was said, and by who, and considering that there is no recording of Confessions, who will know what was actually said by who, to who when the Confession is over.
As abhorant as child sexual abuse is, and there is no condoning this behaviour, the sanctity of the Confessional is and must remain inviolable and confidential.