An Australian inquiry into child abuse has recommended that celibacy should be optional for Catholic priests and that members of the clergy should be prosecuted for failing to report evidence of pedophilia revealed to them in a confessional.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made the recommendations in its final 17-volume report on Friday following a wide-ranging investigation on how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia.
The commission heard the testimonies of more than 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse. Of those who suffered abuse in religious institutions, 62 percent were Catholics, according to The Associated Press. The average age of sex abuse victims at Catholic Institutions was said to be 11-years-old.
The report recommended that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference request that the Vatican consider making celibacy voluntary for men joining the priesthood.
Although the commission noted that celibacy was not a direct cause of child sex abuse, it had concluded that it was a contributing factor, especially when combined with other risk factors.
"We conclude that there is an elevated risk of child sex abuse where compulsorily celibate male clergy or religious have privileged access to children in certain types of Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions and parishes," the report stated.
The commission also urged the bishops' body to request clarification on whether information received in the confessional about sexual abuse of a child is covered by the seal of secrecy and whether absolution of a perpetrator should be withdrawn until the perpetrator confesses to the police.
It also recommended making failure to report child sexual abuse a criminal offense, even for clerics. It contended that the law should exclude any existing excuse or privilege relating to a religious confessional.
Archbishop Denis Hart, the president of the bishops' conference, said that the Vatican is already giving "serious consideration" to the commission's questions about the extent of the seal of the confession and whether child molesters who do not report their crimes to the police could be absolved.
"I cannot break the seal. The penalty for any priest breaking the seal is excommunication; being passed out of the church," the archbishop said.
"I revere the law of the land and I trust it, but this is a sacred, spiritual charge before God which I must honor, and I have to try and do what I can do with both," he continued.
He further noted that the celibacy recommendations would be relayed to the Vatican, but added that "I believe that there are real values in celibacy."
The Vatican issued a statement on Friday saying the commission's report as "thorough" and should be "studied seriously." It further stressed that it is committed to helping the Australian church accompany child abuse victims in finding healing and justice.