– The Australian state of Victoria has said a recommendation by the royal commission that it pass a law requiring priests to break the confessional seal to report cases of child sex abuse requires further consideration.
Victoria attorney general Martin Pakula said July 11 that the government needs to further consider 24 of the 317 recommendations made to the state by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Pakula said the state government accepted 128 recommendations, and another 165 in principle, according to The Guardian.
He told ABC radio that the proposal to require the breaking of the seal of confession “needs a degree of national agreement.”
The Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania have already adopted laws making it illegal for priests to fail to report the confession of a child sex abuse crime.
In South Australia, priests who fail to report child sex abuse which they learned of while hearing a confession will face a $7,400 fine beginning Oct. 1.
Like Victoria, New South Wales is subjecting that recommendation to further consideration, though it accepted 336 of the royal commission’s recommendations.
The New South Wales government said last month that “whether or how the offence will apply to members of the clergy where the information about an offence was gathered through religious confessions is a complex issue that has been referred to the Council of Attorney’s-General for national consideration.”
The Catholic Church in Australia has vehemently opposed the imposition of laws mandating reporting from the confessional. Many priests have said they would go to jail before violating the seal.
The Code of Canon Law states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” A priest who intentionally violates the seal incurs an automatic excommunication.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”
Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulburn has said, “Priests are bound by a sacred vow to maintain the seal of confession. Without that vow, who would be willing to unburden themselves of their sins?”
“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 said. “Sadly, breaking the seal of confession won’t prevent abuse and it won’t help our ongoing efforts to improve the safety of children in Catholic institutions.”
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney has said that “priests will, we know, suffer punishment, even martyrdom, rather than break the seal of Confession,” which he called “a privileged encounter between penitent and God.”
Clerics are not the only critics of the new legislation. Andrew Wall, a member of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, said forcing priests to break the seal of confession oversteps an individual’s “freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of religious rights.”