An Australian Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse issued a report today recommending that laws on reporting sexual abuse of children “should exclude any existing excuse, protection or privilege in relation to religious confessions”, including the confessional.
The commission’s report said the right to practice one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse. “We understand the significance of religious confession – in particular, the inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths, particularly the Catholic faith. However, we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators. We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behavior in order to deal with their own guilt,” they wrote.
In response, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the inviolability of the seal of confession is a “fundamental part of the freedom of religion,” and this is recognized in Australia and many other countries around the world.
“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Hart said.