Australian bishop decries new law that requires priests to break seal of confession

Representative Image: An archbishop has decried a new law in Australia that requires priests to break the seal of confession. | Pixabay/MichaelGaida

A Catholic bishop has denounced a new law that requires Catholic priests in Australia to report cases of child abuse, including those heard in the confessional.

According to Life Site News, the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has approved a bill that applies the requirement to report child abuse to churches and church activities.

Under the seal of confessional, priests are prohibited from disclosing information divulged by penitents. Priests who break the seal are automatically excommunicated from the church.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn raised objections to the new law in an article for the Canberra Times.

Prowse expressed support for the efforts to protect children, but insisted that "breaking the sacred seal of Confession won't prevent abuse."

The bishop argued that the new law would not be effective in preventing abuse, because the assailants are less likely to confess "if they thought they would be reported." He further pointed out that priests do not necessarily know the identities of the penitents.

"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," Prowse went on to say.

Under the new law, priests are required to report child sexual abuse allegations or offenses to the ACT Ombudsman within 30 days. The legislation is expected to take effect within nine months, according to Catholic Herald.

According to Life Site News, Prowse was invited to a meeting with the Attorney General to discuss both the protection of children and the seal of confessional, but the bill was debated before the meeting took place.

Andrew Wall, a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, acknowledged that some of the provisions in the law were "overdue," but he criticized the application of the measure to the confessional.

The lawmaker was a former student of Marist College, which has faced numerous sex abuse allegations.

He argued that the new law "significantly impinges on an individual's freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of individual rights."

Vicki Dunne, another member of the assembly, expressed concern that the requiring priests to break the seal of confessional would undermine Catholics' trust in the "sacred, sacramental and sacrosanct" rite. She noted that the excommunication of priests who break the confessional seal can only be reversed by the pope.

"We need to stop and think twice before we pass legislation that requires Catholic priest to break the seal of the confession," she said, as reported by Life Site News.