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Will Irish legislation challenge seal of confession?

September 08, 2011

Legislation put forward by the Irish government to require mandatory reporting of sex-abuse allegations will not specifically mention the matter, but a justice department official says that the bill does not provide an exemption for sacramental confession.

Justice minister Alan Shatter told reporters that the debate over preserving the confessional seal was "an entirely bogus issue." The point of the legislation, he said, was to ensure that anyone informed about the sexual abuse of children would report to police, "unless there is a reasonable excuse not to do so."

That statement by Shatter allowed for the possibility that sacramental confession would be exempt. Since priests undertake a solemn obligation never to reveal the content of confessions, under penalty of excommunication, they would clearly have a "reasonable excuse."

Both Shatter and children's minister Frances Fitzgerald told reporters that priests would be covered by the provisions of the new legislation. But those statements, too, left room for uncertainty. Priests would obviously be subject to the law under normal circumstances. The key question--which has been the subject of vigorous debate for several weeks--is whether confessions would be exempt.

An anonymous spokesman for the justice department appeared to answer that question, however, telling The Journal that the law "will apply regardless of any internal rules of any religious grouping."


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