Church to uphold sanctity of confession

Canon law penalty for breaking the confessional seal is automatic excommunication (CNS/Mike Stechschulte)

The Church will not adhere to a change in South Australian law requiring priests to report confessions of child sex abuse, says Port Pirie Bishop Greg O’Kelly, the Apostolic Administrator of Adelaide. Source: News.com.au.

Under the new law, set to take effect in October, priests who hear confessions about child abuse will have a legal obligation to report the matter to police. “Politicians can change the law, but we can’t change the nature of the confessional, which is a sacred encounter between a penitent and someone seeking forgiveness and a priest representing Christ,” Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ told ABC Radio Adelaide on Friday.

“It doesn’t affect us,” he said.

“We have an understanding of the seal of confession that is in the area of the sacred.”

The law forms part of the South Australian government’s response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, released by Attorney-General Vickie Chapman last week.

It was widely publicised by Ms Chapman last month when Archbishop Philip Wilson stood aside amid public outcry after his conviction for covering up child sexual abuse.

Canon (Church) law lays down that “it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason”.

The penalty for violating the seal of confessional is excommunication. Canon law also stipulates that anyone else who happens to hear or overhear someone confessing sacramentally is also obliged to observe the seal.

Not reporting abuse will carry a maximum $10,000 fine, and brings expectations of priests in line with those of social workers, teachers, medical professionals and others in positions of authority.

An Attorney-General’s Department spokesman said authorities intend to follow up instances where the law has been broken, and prosecution may result. “Where there is clear evidence to indicate a minister of religion … has failed to abide by their mandatory reporting requirements, the matter would need to be investigated by authorities, with further action — including prosecution — taken as appropriate,” a statement read.

Bishop O’Kelly said the Church had not been made aware of the change, which was legislated last year, until last Thursday.

FULL STORY

‘It doesn’t affect us’: Priests to defy child sex abuse confession law (News.com.au)

RELATED COVERAGE

Catholic leaders 'willing to go to jail' to uphold seal of confession and not report child sex abuse (ABC News)

South Australian priests to defy confession law (The Australian)

Deputy Premier backs new laws to end confessional protection for paedophiles (The Age

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