Dismay over seal of Confession stalemate

ACT Seal of ConfessionTHE CATHOLIC Church in Canberra has called for greater consultation after seemingly reaching a stalemate with the ACT government over the seal of Confession.

Last month, the ACT Legislative Assembly voted in favour of religious organisations being included in an expansion of the Reportable Conduct Scheme.

However, Archbishop Christopher Prowse said the reporting scheme shouldn’t ignore the Catholic community’s concerns on the seal of Confession.

“I support the government’s reportable conduct scheme,” he said.

“But I cannot support the government’s plan to break the seal of religious confession.”

The new law in the ACT means that it will be mandatory for priests to report what was said to them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation should a perpetrator disclose related information to sex abuse cases.

At this stage there is a nine month period for the specific addition to take effect however many more discussions between the Church and the government are expected to happen during this time.

Meeting with ACT Attorney-General

Indeed, the Archbishop met with the ACT Attorney-General, Mr Gordon Ramsay MLA and his advisors recently to discuss both the importance of the protection of children and the seal of Confession.

Speaking on the matter by way of an open letter in the Canberra Times (dated June 7), Archbishop Prowse said “when the government scheme to report all child abuse allegations to the ACT Ombudsman did not include parishes and communities of faith, I called for that anomaly to be rectified and strengthened.”

However, attempts to break the seal of Confession are a threat to religious freedom.

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Priests are bound by a sacred vow to maintain the seal.

“Without the vow, who would be willing to unburden themselves of their sins, seek the wise counsel of a priest and receive the merciful forgiveness of God?” the Archbishop asked.

In his letter, he expressed dismay at the actions of the ACT government in legislating on the seal of Confession without first consulting Church leaders.

And he urged Chief Minister Andrew Barr to allow the Catholic community into the conversation to ensure that it is a part of the solution.

“I take very seriously our responsibility to be a part of the solution, but we need to be a part of effective dialogue,” he said.

To read the letter in full go to https://www.canberratimes.com.au/politics/act/reporting-scheme-shouldn-t-ignore-catholic-community-s-concerns-20180606-p4zjuo.html

Four talking points from Archbishop Prowse regarding the seal of Confession

  1. What sexual abuser would confess to a priest if they thought they would be reported? It is the common experience of pastors that those who abuse children do not confess the crime – to police or to priests. If the seal is removed, the remote possibility that they would confess and so could be counselled to report is gone.
  2. The government itself acknowledged that the Church’s “Truth Justice and Healing Council said the evidence put before the Royal Commission about abuse of the Seal of Confession was, at best, selective and patchy, and made it difficult to see systemic abuse of the Seal of Confession”. The government did not challenge that assessment. People who attend Confession are sorry for their sins, indicate resolve not to sin again and seek God’s mercy. Paedophiles carry out evil and unspeakable act. They hide their crimes; they do not self-report.
  3. There is no guarantee any priest would know the identity of the penitent. If there is a screen in the confessional, the priest would not see the penitent. If the priest saw the penitent they may well not know them. There is no requirement for proof of identity to confess.
  4. Priests are bound by a sacred vow to maintain the Seal of Confession. Without that viw, who would be willing to unburden themselves of their sins, seek the wise counsel of a priest and receive the merciful forgiveness of God?
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