Legal confidentiality of Catholic confession to be breached

The Catholic Church's practice of Confession is a sacrament of the faith, with the priest hearing confessions held to an inviolable sacramental seal, under pain of excommunication for the priest if that seal is broken.  Accordingly, the law in most Western countries protects the priest hearing confessions from being compelled to testify against the penitent who admits a crime.

That accommodation of law is about to be broken in Australia.  The Australian Associated Press reports:

South Australian priests hearing confessions about child abuse will have a mandatory obligation from October to report the matter to police.

SA will become the first state to adopt the recommendation of the abuse royal commission, meaning priests face the prospect of criminal charges for failing to report child abuse revealed in confession.

"For many years priests and ministers have been obliged to report outside of confessional and we changed the law last year to be effective first of October," Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told ABC radio on Thursday.

A later dispatch from the AAP elaborates:

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.

But Bishop Greg O'Kelly said the church had not been made aware of the change which was legislated last year, and was now considering its implications.


Basilica of St. Peter's confessional booth, Vatican City (Wikimedia Commons).

Protecting abused children of course is a worthy goal and a particular vulnerability of a Catholic Church still recovering from its own child sex abuse scandals.  For those opponents of the Church eager to do it harm, it represents an ideal opportunity to attack its legal status and bring turmoil to its priestly ranks, who will be forced to choose between prosecution and excommunication.

Even though I am not a Catholic, I view this move with great alarm.  Owing to its history, size, and status as a diplomatic entity with sovereign capital in Vatican City, the Church stands as a bulwark for biblical teachings.  That has won it determined enemies.

Our Australian correspondent John McMahon, who brought this to my attention, comments, "This was inevitable.  The long term aim of these activists has always been to destroy the Catholic Church."

The Catholic Church's practice of Confession is a sacrament of the faith, with the priest hearing confessions held to an inviolable sacramental seal, under pain of excommunication for the priest if that seal is broken.  Accordingly, the law in most Western countries protects the priest hearing confessions from being compelled to testify against the penitent who admits a crime.

That accommodation of law is about to be broken in Australia.  The Australian Associated Press reports:

South Australian priests hearing confessions about child abuse will have a mandatory obligation from October to report the matter to police.

SA will become the first state to adopt the recommendation of the abuse royal commission, meaning priests face the prospect of criminal charges for failing to report child abuse revealed in confession.

"For many years priests and ministers have been obliged to report outside of confessional and we changed the law last year to be effective first of October," Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told ABC radio on Thursday.

A later dispatch from the AAP elaborates:

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.

But Bishop Greg O'Kelly said the church had not been made aware of the change which was legislated last year, and was now considering its implications.


Basilica of St. Peter's confessional booth, Vatican City (Wikimedia Commons).

Protecting abused children of course is a worthy goal and a particular vulnerability of a Catholic Church still recovering from its own child sex abuse scandals.  For those opponents of the Church eager to do it harm, it represents an ideal opportunity to attack its legal status and bring turmoil to its priestly ranks, who will be forced to choose between prosecution and excommunication.

Even though I am not a Catholic, I view this move with great alarm.  Owing to its history, size, and status as a diplomatic entity with sovereign capital in Vatican City, the Church stands as a bulwark for biblical teachings.  That has won it determined enemies.

Our Australian correspondent John McMahon, who brought this to my attention, comments, "This was inevitable.  The long term aim of these activists has always been to destroy the Catholic Church."