Catholic World News

Australian bishops split on proposal to discuss limits of confessional seal

May 12, 2017

Australian Catholic bishops have chosen not to take action on a proposal to seek guidance from Rome about the limits of the confessional seal.

Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson has suggested that a delegation of Australian bishops should visit the Vatican, to discuss whether the absolute secrecy of the confessional could be broken in order to protect children from sexual abuse. But the Australian bishops ended a meeting this week without taking action on the proposal.

The Australian bishops held a general discussion about their response to a royal commission investigating sexual abuse in Australia. The commission had pressed several prelates for comments on how a priest-confessor should respond if he learns about sexual abuse during a sacramental confession. While all the bishops who were questioned agreed that they would strongly urge the penitent to report the abuse to police, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney stressed that the confessional seal was inviolable. Archbishop Wilson differed, saying that “if a child told you this was happening to them, they’re not confessing a sin,” and therefore (the archbishop said) the seal would not apply.

A statement from the Australian bishops’ conference indicated that during their meeting the bishops had spoken about “how to help and support our priests and our people to reassure them about the practical application of the sacrament of Penance at times when the seal of the confessional comes up.”

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  • Posted by: feedback - May. 13, 2017 8:55 AM ET USA

    Throughout the history there were numerous attempts to corrupt the Sacrament of Reconciliation by using it for eavesdropping, and, of course, always "only in matters of great importance." But the Church has always held unconditionally that everything said in a confession - from its beginning to the end - is under seal of the Sacrament, and not "just the sins of the penitent." I imagine that some Catholics would rather die in sin than go to confession to Archbishop Wilson or to a priest like him.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - May. 13, 2017 12:56 AM ET USA

    Look out for this one as it potentially heads toward another case of the end does justify the means. The path to this justification is a familiar one: a case that is terrible enough to warrant, er, excuse, creating an exception to the rule. Apparently the history of slippery slopism is not available to these folks.

  • Posted by: vjenkins78814 - May. 12, 2017 11:46 PM ET USA

    Priests should not be forced to reveal anything heard in the confessional. Famous case in point; St. John Nepomocene gave up his life rather than reveal the confession of a queen.