Australian Archbishop Defies Confessional Reporting Law
The acting Archbishop of Adelaide declared that the Catholic Church refuses to uphold a new law that would force priests to break the seal of confession.
Greg O’Kelly, acting archbishop of Adelaide in Australia, said that the law cannot change the sanctity of the confessional and church law absolutely forbids any priest from violating the confidential nature of confession, according to The Guardian. The law, which goes into effect in October, compels religious ministers to report any confessed child abuser or face fines and prosecution. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed the law in 2017, but O’Kelly said the church only became aware of it on Thursday.
“Politicians can change the law, but we can’t change the nature of the confessional, which is a sacred encounter between a penitent and someone seeking forgiveness and a priest representing Christ,” O’Kelly said, according to The Guardian. “It doesn’t affect us. We have an understanding of the seal of confession that is in the area of the sacred.”
Priests who break the seal of confession face the penalty of excommunication, according to Catholic Church law. Priests who do not break the seal of confession in ACT, however, will now face a maximum $10,000 fine, according to the new law.
A spokesman for the South Australia attorney general’s office said that authorities will investigate any instance of alleged failed reporting from church officials and will prosecute when necessary.
“Where there is clear evidence to indicate a minister of religion … has failed to abide by their mandatory reporting requirements, the matter would need to be investigated by authorities, with further action – including prosecution – taken as appropriate,” the spokesman said, according to The Guardian.
Catholic leaders decried the new law on Thursday, saying that it would actually make it harder to protect children by destroying any chance of a child abuser actually confessing their crimes to a priest and subsequently being counseled to turn themselves in. Catholic leaders also said that the law violates religious liberties.
“What sexual abuser would confess to a priest if they thought they would be reported? If the seal is removed, the remote possibility that they would confess and so could be counselled to report is gone,” Christopher Prowse, Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, wrote in an essay. “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.”
The former state Education Minister Adrian Piccoli asserted, however, that religious laws did not take precedence over the law of the land.
“The laws of Macquarie Street and Canberra take precedence over canon law, sharia law, or anything else,” Piccoli said, according to The Guardian.
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