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Irish cabinet minister: priests should violate seal of confessional to report abuse

April 26, 2012

Priests who hear confessions will not be exempt from the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse against children, according to Ireland’s justice minister.

Commenting on proposed legislation, Alan Shatter said that “I would expect that if there was someone going to confession who was a serial sex abuser, I don't know how anyone could live with their conscience if they didn't refer that to the gardai [police].”

“As someone who doesn't frequent confession, I don't know what information people share in confessions,” Shatter said, adding that 1998 legislation that mandates the report of murder, kidnapping, and bank robberies does not have an exemption for priests who hear confessions.

A bishop and a dissenting priests’ organization were united in condemning Shatter’s remarks.

“The seal of the confessional is inviolable as far as I am concerned, and that's the end of the matter,” said Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Field of Dublin.

“I certainly wouldn't be willing to break the seal of confession for anyone--Alan Shatter particularly,” added Father Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests.

In a subsequent statement, Ireland’s justice department said that the legislation does not directly address the seal of the confessional.

“The extent to which the privilege can be relied on in a criminal case is unclear,” the department stated.


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  • Posted by: CBB - Apr. 27, 2012 4:25 AM ET USA

    I am not sure, not having studied the sacrament of reconciliation in detail, but my understanding is that before absolution would be given by a priest hearing someone's confession of serious sin involving criminal or potentially criminal offences that there is a expectation encouraged strongly by the priest that the person show their true sorrow for the sin by reporting themselves to the authorities that are relevant. Is this the case?

  • Posted by: ColmCille - Apr. 26, 2012 7:41 PM ET USA

    That really tells you something when even dissenting priests wont violate the seal of confession. Historically such violations have been so rare as to be virtually nonexistent. What some don't get is that souls are at stake. If priests start breaking the seal, people will stop confessing their sins. Not that secularists care, or even believe in sin. In truth, it's hard to see how a priest could live with himself if he broke the seal