HOBART, Tasmania (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Tasmanian archbishop is resisting a new law that would force priests to break the confessional seal in order to report child abuse.
Tasmanian lawmakers on Wednesday made it mandatory for all Catholic priests to reveal information gained in the confessional to law enforcement if it's related to child abuse. Priests who refuse can face up to 21 years in prison.
Hobart Abp. Julian Porteous told Australian media that priests are "unable" to comply. He foresaw that revealing confessional matter would simply keep people from going to confession.
"I believe the Tasmanian bill will not strengthen protections for children and vulnerable people, but it will have the opposite effect — as offenders will be less likely to come forward to confess serious sins for fear of being reported," said Porteous.
He added, "This will deny priests the opportunity to encourage offenders to report themselves to police."
Tasmania follows Australia, which earlier in the week made it illegal for confessors to remain silent on knowledge of child sex abuse revealed in the confessional. Tasmania's attorney general Elise Archer said the new law means everyone in the community "must do everything in their power to protect children and prevent child abuse from occurring".
"There is no excuse for failure to report the horrific abuse of children, least of all for institutions who have been named by the Royal Commission as failing to prevent child abuse in the past," said Archer.
In July, Porteous related that Pope Francis is standing firm on Church law that forbids priests to break the seal of confession for any reason.
Repeating the words of the Pope, Porteous said, "The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction over it, nor can lay any claim to it."
Porteous further affirmed that the Vatican is resolute in the matter.
"The Apostolic Penitentiary, one of three tribunals in the Roman Curia, which has competence in this matter, produced a document following requests from a number of bishops in different parts of the world," he said. "The document confirmed the traditional Catholic teaching."
He then reviewed existing Church law outlawing any violation of confessional secrecy for any reason:
The confessor is never allowed, for any reason whatsoever, "to betray the penitent with words or in any other way" (can.983, §1 CIC), as well as "it is totally forbidden for the confessor to make use of the knowledge acquired from confession when it might harm the penitent, even excluding any danger of revelation" (can.984, §1 CIC).
Governments can give a number of justifications for wanting to know what has been confessed, said Porteous, which has no bearing on the seal of confession.
But the reality is that saints, like St. Mateo Correa Magallanes and St. John Nepomucene, who gave their life defending the seal of the confessional, knew ... breaking the seal of the confessional would constitute the end of the sacrament. If one priest was to break it the faithful would lose confidence that what they confess could be made public or used against them.
Melbourne's Abp. Peter Comensoli is likewise saying he'll keep confessional secrecy. Asked on Wednesday about the matter, Comensoli said he would first urge the penitent to tell law enforcement himself. If this failed he would then ask the person to repeat the crime again to him outside of the confessional.
If the one confessing won't do either of those things, said Comensoli, there was nothing he could do.
"Personally, I'll keep the seal," he said.