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In testimony before abuse commission, Australian prelates split on sacramental seal

February 24, 2017

Australian prelates faced intense questioning from a royal commission investigating sexual abuse, and gave different responses to questions about the secrecy of sacramental confessions.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said that he would not report to police if someone confessed abusing a child, and would give the offender absolution, but only after “using all power I have to persuade him” to turn himself in. He emphasized that he would never violate the seal of confession. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said that he would withhold absolution unless the penitent reported to police.

Questioned about how he would respond if a child mentioned being abused during a confession, Archbishop Fisher again said that the seal would be inviolable. “I will do everything in my power to persuade the child to come with me to the police,” he said; but if the child refused he would be powerless to take action. Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide disagreed. He said that the confessional seal applies to sins that are confessed, and “if a child told you this was happening to them, they’re not confessing a sin.”

 
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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Feb. 24, 2017 10:13 PM ET USA

    Not a priest, but I believe merely to mention to the penitent something said during Confession at any point thereafter, outside of another Confession, is a violation of the seal.

  • Posted by: Erusmas - Feb. 24, 2017 6:23 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Philip Wilson is on very dangerous ground. A penitent has disclosed something in the confessional and refused to go with the Archbishop to the police. Archbishop Wilson says he would finely parse the nature of the disclosure. Then, if he decided the penitent was not culpable for his participation in some sinful act, he thinks he would be free to report the details of the conversation about that particular act to police. God save us from such subtleties.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Feb. 24, 2017 6:16 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide makes a good point.

  • Posted by: rpp - Feb. 24, 2017 5:38 PM ET USA

    Hmm... Archbishop Wilson's comments about a child confessing they are a victim of abuse not being protected by the confessional seal seem inconsistent to Church Tradition and troubling. It was always my understanding that everything between "Bless me Father for I have sinned" and "I absolve you ..." is covered by the seal.