Church Refuses Confession Change
The Daily Telegraph [Australia]
January 12, 2004
THE Catholic Church today backed the absolute silence of the Confessional despite criticism the practice encouraged paedophile priests.
A leading child protection group has called for the mandatory reporting of child abuse by clergy after a priest revealed he went to confession more than 1,500 times to admit sexually abusing children.
Former Catholic priest Michael Joseph McArdle claims he confessed his sins of paedophilia, sometimes weekly, to 30 fellow priests for more than 20 years.
In an affidavit, McArdle said after each confession he felt "like a magic wand had been waved over me".
He was sentenced to six years' jail last year after pleading guilty to molesting 14 boys and two girls, over a 22-year period in several Queensland country towns.
The Rockhampton diocese of the Catholic Church paid $500,000 to nine of his male victims last month.
Bishop of Rockhampton Brian Heenan said the protection of children was a priority and the church would continue to refine its protocol and procedures.
He refused to comment on McArdle's affidavit but said the church would not change the confidentiality of the confessional.
"The Catholic Church upholds, to this day, the absolute inviolability of the seal of confession and no priest has the authority to reveal what he hears in confession," Bishop Heenan said in a statement.
"The sanctity of the confessional is a longstanding practice that enables a person to lay themselves open before God through the ministry of the priest.
"That person must have complete assurance that whatever they reveal will not be passed on.
"Through that encounter an opportunity exists to encourage the penitent to seek help or for the penitent to alert the appropriate authorities to their action."
Hetty Johnston, director of the child advocacy group Bravehearts, called for the church to change its policy on the confessional.
"The policy as its stands now doesn't work to stop paedophiles from offending, it just works to protect paedophiles and harm children," she said.
"Surely to goodness the Bible doesn't teach that.
"The Bible is about protecting the little ones, not aiding and abetting those who harm them."
Ms Johnston said parliaments around Australia should put pressure on the church.
"I think the politicians have to step in first," he said.
"If you wait for the church you will be waiting a long, long time."
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