AUSTRALIA: Law change requires priests to break the #SealofConfession

Every once in a while, like the occasional blooming of the giant Amorphophallus titanum, or corpse flower, some government entity attempts to criminalize the practice of our Faith.

The latest rotting-flesh blossom occurred inCanberra, Australia.  On 7 June the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly passed a bill which in effect would require priests to break the Seal of Confession and report abuse of children to law enforcement.

CRUX has a story HERE.  Canberra Times HERE.

Priests can’t and won’t break the Seal.

Priests can’t and won’t break the Seal.

Priests can’t and won’t break the Seal.


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  1. Pingback: AUSTRALIA: Law change requires priests to break the #SealofConfession | Fr. Z’s Blog | Deaconjohn1987's Blog

  2. tominrichmond says:

    Interesting. Neither article mentions what penalty is in store for violation– a civil fine? Criminal conviction and fine, potential jail?
    It’s difficult to imagine how this would be enforced. Will the government send in informants to record phony confessions to catch non-compliant priests? Will a penitent who eventually gets sued for abuse plead in the priest who heard his confession, in order to share the burden of the judgment?
    How would a priest, who hears dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of confessions a year, many under anonymous conditions, be expected to prepare a defense when he probably won’t even recall a specific confession from potentially years before? It raises a due process question about how such a priest could get a fair trial (one reason there are statutes of limitation for many crimes).
    Troublesome from many vantage points.

  3. acardnal says:

    Another reason to eliminate face to face confessions and require only anonymous.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I hope the diocesan bishops of this region have the good sense to outlaw face to face confession so all confessions remain anonymous which will further protect the priests.

  5. tamranthor says:

    I think perhaps the government underestimates its opponent in this matter. He is a bit bigger, a bit more powerful, and just a bit more omniscient than any earthly power, no matter how constituted.

    IOW, yer arm’s too short to box with God. :)

  6. Malta says:

    Dress in disguise and change your voice lol!

  7. Ages says:

    I would hope that a priest who hears a confession of child abuse would require the penitent to immediately turn himself in to the police as his penance, making such a law irrelevant. Surely the perp could be absolved in his holding cell?

  8. Ultrarunner says:

    “Going anonymous” isn’t going to buy priests any safety.

    It’s very common for authorities in the US to send minors into a store to buy alcohol or cigarrettes and then arrest the owner for breaking the law.

    In similar fashion, it’s not implausable to think that an Australian enforcement agency would send a person into a confessional, say they sexually abused a minor or knew someone who did, and then wait 30 days before arresting Father Smith for not reporting a case of sexual abuse during a confession.

    Neither is it difficult to imagine the parent of a victim confessing anger about person “X” abusing his child, only to later report the abuse to the authorities who then ask, “Did you ever tell anyone about this?”

    Perhaps if the universal reaction of priests and bishops was, “How can we obey Church law AND civil law” as opposed to trying to circumvent civil law (let’s go anonymous) or break it (let’s not report what was learned outside the confessional on a wholesale basis), laws like the one passed in Australia wouldn’t be deemed necessary to protect society. As it is, perhaps the new law will finally force the Australian Church to address this kind of default behaviour.

  9. frjim4321 says:

    acardnal: “Another reason to eliminate face to face confession s and require only anonymous.”

    Most of the readership here would probably be surprised that the token moderate here is a big fan of the “screen” over F2F.

    [Amen, brother.]

  10. Joy65 says:

    “Priests can’t and won’t break the Seal.
    Priests can’t and won’t break the Seal.
    Priests can’t and won’t break the Seal.


  11. TonyO says:

    Well, somebody in the legislature decided to take on the Catholic priesthood. He (more probably, she) might think he has a big pair of brass ones, but he won’t win this one.

    Oh, sure, one or two priests might cave in. And then get defrocked. The battle over it will kill the act fairly quickly, and it will be reversed. Which will leave egg on the faces of the legislators who pushed this.

    Now, smart, savvy politicians ought to know better than to make martyrs out of your enemies. But the problem is that it’s not SMART politicians who are the driving force behind this. The root force is the Powers and Dominions of Satan, and the objective is not to WIN this particular battle, it’s to move the standard another inch or two. Satan doesn’t give a fig for some stupid politician’s career, he wants to bring down the priesthood and the Church. In the long run he “wins” (in his ledger, at least) this go-round, if he gets the status of “OK, we won’t force priests to break the seal” as if it were a concession, a favor granted, not a presumptive requirement on the government. He shoots for a mile and gains an inch here, and then an inch there, and sometimes he keeps the whole mile.

    Think big picture. Our enemy does. Fortunately, we have the winning quarterback on our side – as long as we STAY on the right side.

  12. JARay says:

    I too think that the enforcement of this law will be an impossibility. How will the law enforcers “Know” what Jimmy Smith confessed to Father Brown? It would need Jimmy Smith to go along and tell the Police what he confessed to Father Brown after he had made that confession to Father Brown. Already it has been pointed out in the Courts that wrong doers will simply stop making such confessions in the first place. The law has been shown to be an ass.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear Ages,

    I would hope that a priest who hears a confession of child abuse would require the penitent to immediately turn himself in to the police as his penance, making such a law irrelevant. Surely the perp could be absolved in his holding cell?,

    as you perhaps know, there is abuse and abuse. It is also the case that it is called “abuse” precisely because it is not necessarily “rape”. (An even better term would be “unchastity with a minor”).

    You prefer an implacable approach to sexual abuse. Every sexual abuse? Also, pardon my saying so, when 19-year-old High School senior John kisses 13-year-old Middle School junior Jill on her mouth (keeping the mouth shut), to their mutual excitement and fun?

    For that too is in most jurisdictions a (rather minor) variety of sexual abuse.

  14. Fr Richard Duncan CO says:

    The first thing to get clear is that the issue of abuse comes up very rarely indeed. In all the many thousands of confessions that I have heard, abuse has featured just 5 times, i.e. 0.03%. If the Australian authorities imagine that Catholic confessionals are thronged with abusers routinely confessing abuse and routinely being absolved, they are just plain ignorant.

    The second thing to get clear is that the anonymity and secrecy of the confessional provides a forum in which VICTIMS of abuse can talk about their experiences. Plainly, one would want to encourage them to move the discussion into a forum in which the law can take its course. But they may not be prepared to do that, at least not at first, and all one can do is to keep the door open.

    Finally, the confessional also provides a forum in which POTENTIAL abusers can seek counsel and advice. In this context, the priest can do invaluable work in preventing abuse from taking place. Again one would want to move the discussion into a forum in which the penitent can seek professional help from a therapist who operates from a Catholic understanding of the human person. But once again, the penitent may need a lot of encouragement to take that step and the priest may be the only person to whom he is prepared to talk.

    I hope that everyone would accept that a priest confronted with the issue of abuse in the confessional has a tremendous responsibility, not the least of which is not to make the situation he faces WORSE. The Australian proposal would do just that since it would inevitably drive the situation underground and postpone, perhaps forever, the time in which it can be resolved. The proposal would therefore have the exact opposite effect to that intended.

    I hope no stupid, ignorant, lawmakers in the UK ever think of introducing such a proposal. But if they did, I, and every other priest I know, would rather spend the rest of my life in prison than ever break the seal of confessional.

    St John of Nepomuk, pray for us!

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