Archbishop condemns law forcing priests to violate seal of confessional


Brisbane: A new law requiring priests to break the seal of the confessional is “premature and ill-judged”, the Archbishop of Brisbane has said.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian bishops’ conference, said the law in Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was “seemingly driven by a desire to penalise the Catholic Church without properly considering the ramifications of the decision”.

Priests in Canberra now face criminal charges for maintaining the seal of the confessional where someone confesses to child sexual abuse under new legislation passed by the ACT assembly. The move has sparked fears that other Australian states and territories could introduce similar requirements.

Under Church law, the seal of the confessional is absolute and any priest who violates it faces excommunication.

“What sexual abuser would confess to a priest if they thought they would be reported?” Canberra and Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse said. “If the seal is removed, the remote possibility that they would confess and so could be counselled to report is gone.”

“The Government threatens religious freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement in the safety of children,” he added.

Archbishop Coleridge said that the legislation also raised important practical questions about it could be implemented. “It’s the sort of legislation that could be drawn up and passed only by people who know little or nothing of the way the sacrament works in practice,” he said.

“One can only hope that other jurisdictions will be more considered in their decisions and more willing to listen to the voices of Catholic clergy and people than the ACT authorities seem to have been.”

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4 thoughts on “Archbishop condemns law forcing priests to violate seal of confessional

  1. Silence of moral theologians is the biggest curse of this time. There should be on going awareness programme on sacrament of confession in each diocesan level gatherings. Some Religious priests use the knowledge of confession in India and play in their church politics. Scrutiny of the bishops on confession and holy eucharist is almost nil in India, the religious priests and nuns who are nomadic in nature ( transfers from one state to another, and inter rite, but has some centres in common) make mistakes and lay the mistakes to the local bishops and secular diocesan priests who mostly are victims of everyone’s mistakes.

  2. This is a grey area and also a hypothetical question. Hardly any Sunday Catholics go for confession. I can’t imagine hardened criminals suddenly turning over a new leaf and repenting in confession. A confessor also cannot “forgive” criminal acts unless there is surrender to the law of the land. One cannot murder, rape. rob a bank and expect the confessor to absolve him of all guilt! This would be making a mockery of the sacrament.

    In the larger interests of justice, especially to the victims of heinous crimes, if, hypothetically, the law of the land demands that it be revealed, then so be it. Hiding behind canon law cannot be an excuse.

    Ecclesiastical authorities also need to understand that if under legal duress a revelation is made then it should not invite any penal action on the confessor. This seems to be an equitable solution.

  3. Forcing priests to break the seal of Confession will spell the doom of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

    In this much vaunted Age of ours, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is becoming more and more difficult to be true to Jesus and His Church, We now have the Prime Minister of Ireland promising to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions.

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