Australian Law Forces Priests to Break Seal of Confession

by Christine Niles  •  •  June 11, 2018   

Abp. Christopher Prowse hits back

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CANBERRA, Australian Capital Territory ( - An Australian archbishop is blasting regulations that would force Catholic clergy to violate the seal of confession.

In a June 6 op-ed, Abp. Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn wrote that "priests are bound by a sacred vow to maintain the seal of the confession. Without that vow, who would be willing to unburden themselves of their sins, seek the wise counsel of a priest and receive the merciful forgiveness of God?"

On June 7, the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which includes the capitol of Canberra, recently voted to expand legislation on reporting sex abuse to cover churches. The law would require religious organizations to report any allegations or crimes against children to the government within 30 days.

"The government threatens religious freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement in the safety of children," Prowse insisted.

The expansion of the law was prompted partly by the history of various Catholic institutions shown to have allowed the abuse of hundreds of children. Marist College Canberra is the most notorious in the area, with as many as 63 claims of abuse lodged against the school. At least 20 percent of Marist brothers in Australia are credibly accused of sex abuse.

Catholic orphanages and boys' homes have also shown high rates of abuse, with 219 allegations of sex abuse lodged against BoysTown Beaudesert in Queensland, 142 against Castledare Junior Orphanage in Western Australia, and 118 against St Joseph's Farm and Trade School, also in Western Australia, among others.

The Catholic Church teaches that priests are forbidden to reveal anything said in confession; doing so results in automatic excommunication.

"Sadly, breaking the sacred seal of confession won't prevent abuse and it won't help our ongoing efforts to improve the safety of children in Catholic institutions," Prowse wrote.

The archdiocese has nine months to discuss the terms with the government before the law goes into effect on March 31, 2019.


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