Confessional debate is a Royal Commission red herring

Eureka Street

Chris McGillion
November 28, 2012

The clamour is growing to enable the forthcoming Royal Commission into child sex abuse to require Catholic priests to break the seal of confession if doing so is deemed necessary to investigate abusers and/or the issue of institutional cover ups. The Federal Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has expressed support for such a power, saying that child abuse is ‘a crime’ that ‘should be reported’ under any circumstances.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard also supports the move. ‘Adults have got a duty of care towards children,’ she has said, ‘and it’s not good enough for people to engage in sins of omission and not act when a child is at risk.’

The former auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Geoffrey Robinson, a vocal critic of the way the Church has handled clerical sex abuse cases, said he’d break the seal for the ‘greater good’ and report a confessor to the police if he believed there was an ongoing risk of further offences. At least one Melbourne priest has said he’d do the same.

Before this debate goes much further, it would be wise for everyone to consider what is at stake. Roxon has said that the more important issue is the failure to report to police known cases of abuse and ‘open secrets’ that came to the attention of priests and Church authorities by means other than the confessional. Similarly, Bishop Robinson has conceded the obvious: ‘Offenders in this field, in paedophilia, do not go to confession and confess.’

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.