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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Australian bishops, religious say they can’t violate seal of Confession

Australia’s Catholic bishops and religious orders, responding to recommendations from the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, accepted 98 per cent of its suggestions, but said they could not accept recommendations that would violate the seal of Confession.

“We are committed to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people while maintaining the seal. We do not see safeguarding and the seal as mutually exclusive,” said the preamble to a 57-response to dozens of recommendations concerning child safety, formation of priest and religious workers, ongoing training in child safety and even out-of-home care service providers.

The response, published today, came eight-and-a-half months after the Royal Commission released its 17-volume report on child sexual abuse. The report was based on five years of hearings, nearly 26,000 emails, and more than 42,000 phone calls from concerned Australians. In February 2017, Australian Church leaders spent three weeks testifying before the commission.

The Royal Commission recommended that the bishops consult with the Holy See to clarify 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 whether “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.”

The commission also recommended that Confession “only be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult.”

The response from the bishops and religious said dioceses would examine confessional spaces and practices. It said Confessions of groups of children were normally conducted in the open and that the Catholic Professional Standards Limited it had established was developing standards and protocols.

“However, the ‘seal of Confession’ is inviolable for the priest confessor,” it said.

Picture: A man waits to go to Confession. (CNS photo/Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic).