Media Statement on the Seal of Confession and ACT Legislation


The Catholic Church is supportive of the ACT Government’s recent legislative changes. In summary, they are:

i. The Crimes Act (ACT) will require any citizen over the age of 18 who identifies or believes that a child is being abused to report the matter to the police.

ii. Mandatory Reporting will require clergy to report to Child and Youth Protection Services.

iii. The Reportable Conduct Scheme requires certain employees who work with children to report child abuse and misconduct by another employee (including volunteers) that occurs either in a professional or personal capacity.

The sexual abuse of children and vulnerable people is both a crime and a sin. Civil authorities deal with crime and punishment. The community of faith deals with sin and forgiveness, support and healing.

Along with other good citizens, Catholics seek to comply with the Government’s legislation. We will continue to maintain safe, nurturing environments for our children.

The proposed legislation requires Mandatory Reporting by priests in relation to child abuse disclosed during the Sacrament of Confession. We understand the Government’s safeguarding intention.  However, the changes to the Crimes Act noted above address this issue.

The proposed legislation requires any citizen to report matters of child abuse to the police. The Catholic Church believes this is a truly significant development since it will help capture child abuse not only in institutions but in the wider community.

Through our Institute of Professional Standards and Safeguarding, priests, parishes, healthcare, education and welfare agencies, Catholics will continue to be instructed to report crimes of child abuse to the relevant authorities.

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In the unlikely case of unreported child abuse being disclosed during Confession, priests will, without breaching the Seal of Confession, take the opportunity to encourage and assist the person to report to civil authorities.

Letter to the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn regarding ACT Legislation and the Seal of Confession



Wordpress (11)
  • Bruce Ryan 5 years

    Surely, if a penitent who has confessed child sexual abuse is unwilling to self-report to the police the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not operational and the priest can report the case to the police. It would of course be unlikely that the priest would know the identity of the person but he should report the incident. There would be many beneficial consequences of that reporting including being able to offer support to the victim, and prevent further abuse of him or her. 

  • Doreen Robinson 5 years

    Please explain the last paragraph. In the case of unreported child abuse being disclosed during confession……..unreported by whom and to whom?I need a fuller explanation of this last paragraph. 

  • Nessa 5 years

    Always erring on the side of caution – a suggestion of abuse provides enough grey area to report. That is what the vulnerable deserve from all. A sick person who comes to the confessional isn’t seeking reconciliation for their abuse, only to taunt the priest. Don’t play their game by being a coach. Every priest needs to break the seal for the safety of the abused. A seal is already destroyed by the perpetrator if it holds in evil from the light of justice and truth.

  • Leon Hassett 5 years

    This appears to me a very technical and unclear statement. Does the seal of the confessional no longer exist? If it continues to exist I think it needs to be stated in “plain English”. If the confidentiality of confession has been abandoned how could the church possibly expect a sinner against children to repent and seek God’s forgiveness thru the wonderful sacrament of confession? If the church has been FORCED to abandon a long term tradition maybe it is time to move onto more of the generalised forms of reconciliation whereby the priest is not placed in an impossible situation yet the sinner is given the opportunity to genuinely seek God’s forgiveness. It is then up to Civil authorities to do what they have to in order to deal with crime and punishment

  • Joe Quigley 5 years

    It seems to me the sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation/Penance is a process. If one element is missing it is not the sacrament. These elements on the penitent’s part are: expression of sorrow for one’s sins, naming one’s sins & intending to make amends. On the priest side he listens to the penitent’s self disclosure & assures himself that the penitent is prepared to make amends before he absolves him & imposes an act or acts of reparation. This latter is obvious where e.g. a person has stolen a large amount of money. But if the sin is abuse of a child which is also a serious crime the priest & the penitent  need to discuss how to make amends. If the penitent refuses to accept the priest’s judgment that he should self-report his crime to the police the priest then should inform the penitent that he cannot receive absolution & the priest is duty bound to report what he has learned to the police.The process of the sacrament has been derailed. No sacrament has been carried out so  no Seal of Confession exists.

  • C. Pickerd 5 years

    Let us not forget the lawyer client and doctor patient confidentiality conventions.

    • Daniel O'CONNELL 5 years

      There is also parliamentary privilege which is not covered by this legislation.

  • Scott Herbert 5 years

    “i. The Crimes Act (ACT) will require any citizen over the age of 18 who identifies or believes that a child is being abused to report the matter to the police.”


    “In the unlikely case of unreported child abuse being disclosed during Confession, priests will, without breaching the Seal of Confession, take the opportunity to encourage and assist the person to report to civil authorities.”

    The “unlikely case”? “Encourage and assist”?

    The priest is a citizen. The priest is required to report the matter to the police. Catholic Church, your weasel words are nauseating.

  • Scott Herbert 5 years

    I posted a comment which was critical, honest and respectful, of this statement yesterday.

    My comment has been removed.

    As a confirmed catholic who is active in the catholic community, I find this reprehensible.

  • Terry Plenty 5 years

    TERRY PLENTY What are the parallels with Lawyer X and her knowledge of sins committed . Some call the matters crimes but more importantly they are grievous sins. Crimes are temporarily defined by civil legislation but sin is eternally defined by the teachings that formed our civilisation . That is, Christianity as taught and promulgated by the Body of Christ on earth, that is the Church against the gates of Hell shall not prevail.

  • Joe 5 years

    Talk about the Confessional Seal and the Seal of Confession confuses the place where the sacrament is usually performed (the confessional box) as a sort of Cone of Silence and the confidentiality guaranteed between the penitent & the priest in a sincere exercise of the sacrament. Confession is not limited to cataloguing ones sins & demanding the priest absolve them. It is not a sort of “get out of jail” card. It also contains the penitent telling God (through the priest) that he is truly sorry, firmly resolved not to offend again and prepared to make reparation for harm done. Confession is not a Car Wash for the sinful soul.