WelCom October 2020
The legislature of the Australian state of Queensland on Tuesday 8 September 2020, has passed a law requiring priests to violate the seal of confession to report known or suspected child sex abuse. Failure to do so will be punished with three years in prison.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane has said such a reporting requirement would ‘not make a difference to the safety of young people’, and that the bill was based on a ‘poor knowledge of how the sacrament actually works in practice’.
The previous week the Australian bishops provided the federal government with the Holy See’s observations on 12 recommendations of a 2017 report on child sex abuse in the country’s institutions. In response to a recommendation regarding the seal of confession and absolution, the Holy See reiterated the inviolability of the seal and that absolution cannot be conditioned on future actions in the external forum.
Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, which concluded in 2017, had recommended that it be clarified whether ‘information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they have been sexually abused is covered by the seal of confession’ and ‘if a person confesses during the sacrament of reconciliation to perpetrating child sexual abuse, absolution can and should be withheld until they report themselves to civil authorities.’
Archbishop Coleridge has also said the law would make priests ‘less a servant of God than an agent of the state’ and raise ‘major questions about religious freedom’.
Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have also adopted laws forcing priests to violate the confessional seal, while New South Wales and Western Australia have upheld it.
The Holy See told Australia’s bishops earlier this year that the seal of confession is inviolable, and that it includes all the sins known from the confession, both of the penitent and others.
The Holy See added that this is the ‘long-standing and constant teaching of the Church on the inviolability of the sacramental seal, as something demanded by the nature of the sacrament itself and thus as deriving from Divine Law.’
It added that the confessor ‘certainly may, and indeed in certain cases should, encourage a victim to seek help outside the confessional or, when appropriate, to report an instance of abuse to the authorities.’