Archbishop Christopher Prowse defends the Seal of Confession
Priests are not above the law. Of course, that is true. Priests want to be good citizens. At the same time, they want to be good and faithful Ministers of the Catholic Church.
The child abuse crisis is everything good people in society respond to with disgust. Courageous survivors have shared their wounds of criminal abuse within the Catholic Church over past decades.
The way we initially handled the crisis was disastrous. The wounds of the victims have wounded us. There is firm resolve to amend our ways. I am deeply committed to ensure that this lamentable history remains exactly that: history.
As a leader within the Catholic Church, I welcome the inclusion of clergy as mandated reporters of child sex abuse within the ACT. Indeed, I called for this some years ago before it was proposed for legislation.
The proposal that all adults have responsibility for reporting such abuse is certainly true. This makes child protection everybody’s business.
The moot point is the issue of the seal of confession.
Confessions are anonymous. Priests, unlike counsellors, do not take appointments. Confessors are generally unaware of the identity of the penitent because of the construction of the confessional room.
The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn explained this clearly to the ACT Government. We indicated that the extension of the legislation into the seal of confession would be inoperable.
At the same time, priests throughout the world are bound never to reveal what is spoken of in the confessional.
Secrecy and deceit are the modus operandi of paedophiles. If they are Catholic, evidence suggests they avoid confession. On the rare occasion a paedophile may confess, priests know they must give clear and unequivocal advice to the penitent to report themselves to the police.
The Attorney-General asked Justice Julie Dodds-Streeton to provide advice on failure-to-report laws, including laws that could compel priests to report revelations of child sexual abuse heard during the Sacrament of Confession.
Her independent report concluded that abusers are very unlikely to tell anyone. In the unlikely circumstance they did, there would almost certainly not be enough information to see the confession reported to police.
Over the past 30 years, the Church has focused on things that will make children safer. Since the Final Report of the Royal Commission, we continue to implement their 10 key elements for child-safe institutions.
We are also giving great attention to the screening of priests, religious and lay faithful who work with children. All this continues in the future.
Now, however, we priests in the ACT find ourselves on the brink of an impossible choice. We will have to either respect the seal of confession and face prosecution, or comply with the law and face automatic excommunication.
Laws to break the seal of confession are a distraction from other measures that can make real and important improvements to child safety.
The ACT Government’s own report says trying to break the seal of confession would be ineffective. Let’s continue to work together on the many effective initiatives that can protect children and vulnerable adults.
Christopher Prowse is Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
What a perfect explanation on the Priests seal of Confession. It couldn’t have been explained better.
Guilty paedaphile are not likely to go to Confession,but keep it secret.
We as Catholics must pray for our Priests,our Shepherds a great deal at this time.
Well written Archbishop Prowse. May God Bless you heaps, Rosemary Fairney
Beautifully said Archbishop. Breaking the seal of Confession would be a rejection of God’s Wisdom.
Utilizing the sacrament, provided by Christ through our priests, for all parishioners, especially in areas of sexuality, and showing society that virginity for all until a faithful lifelong marriage is the only way to protect children.
Aberrations like masturbation, contraception, fornication, fellatio, adultery and homosexuality are all CONTRARY to actual Church teaching and thus confessible sins. Would you want priests feeling free to diseminate your sins-stand up and support your Archbishop and priests against this perverted ACT government and do something to really protect children including your own.
Thank you Archbishop. This is such a challenging time in history to be a Catholic. The broad reaches of human nature, society and our place in the Universe have been exposed to scrutiny like never before. Science meets Religion head on- rocking the foundations of faith. We can turn to Jesus, and only Jesus (to paraphrase Archbishop Christopher’s recent sermon), to show us the Way. As a practising Catholic I believe that enumerating various human behaviours in excoriating judgment serves only to lead to the casting of stones. Our Religion is based on the (impossible) pursuit of perfection. Condemnations are self-defeating and utterly contrary to the Divine simplicity of ‘Love thy neighbour’. One of my daughters is a lesbian. This is her nature. She was made in the image of God. I love her more than life. I hope that my fellow Catholics will follow the lead of Pope Francis in emphasising the two Great Commandments above all else. “Only Jesus”.
thank you archbishop. well said. pray for our priests.and that that pell is helped .
Is it not the case that absolution can be conditional on the penitent report themselves to police? If this is the case, then, it would be useless to confess, as if they failed to report, then, there is no valid absolution. In the same way that unless there is genuine contrition there is no valid absolution. I can’t see how this proposed legislation is workable.
Well said, Archbishop Chris – recognising the problem, focusing on a solution.
Making absolution conditional on reporting to Police sounds like a helpful development.
A comment that reveals nothing of change, implying these situations of abuse will continue. The church has lost the right to stand on such explanations. The person who has suspicions councils his fellow to determine what is being revealed to them by God. The priest does not council the criminal, he reports him. This must not continue. If a priest has guilt at breaking the seal, he knows that God will hold him in his arms.
thanks for including my post of difference … I’m praying about using the coming 40 days to pray for those who have been harmed … Catholic Sistas have a 40 day prayer option, plus we have the ones from 2018. My hope is that we will have leaders who will jump to creating a ‘Safety Plan’ comparable to ones implemented for those at risk of suicide. As Catholics we have Examen and the prayers of St Ignatius to promote healing and recovery. It’s up to us to seek insights and red flags through prayer and stillness with our Lord and Saviour. God bless all, in the face of vice and sickness of power, away from God’s Kingdom through the graces of the Holy Spirit.