Catholic News Service
By Junno Arocho Esteves
Chilean bishops said that while they support legislation requiring priests and religious authorities to report crimes, they also fear that an update to the country’s current law would force clergy to break the sacramental seal of confession.
The 155-member Chilean House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure April 23 that would add clergy and religious men and women to the list of police, members of the armed forces, teachers and civil servants who are obliged to report all crimes under article 175 of Chile’s penal code.
However, the House of Representatives also rejected a proposal that would exempt crimes reported during the sacrament of confession. The measure will now be debated in the Senate.
Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos, secretary general of the Chilean bishops’ conference, told Chilean news site La Tercera that while the church supports laws that will ensure justice to victims of abuse, rejection of the amendment presents a “serious difficulty” because confession “is a sacrament and, consequently, an act of worship that is protected by Chilean law, specifically the penal code.”
Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo said that although the law is a “positive” step, legislators must also “safeguard the beliefs and the consciences of people, which is one of the most fundamental human rights.”
“The sacrament of confession always implicates the right to safeguard the identity of the person who comes, and he or she knows that nothing said can be communicated to anyone under any circumstance,” Gonzalez told La Tercera.
Fr. Ricardo Morales, apostolic administrator of Puerto Montt, said that priests cannot “violate the conscience of a person who manifests his or her sins before God.”
However, he added, priests have the tools so that “a person who confesses a situation of abuse of a minor, for example, is not given absolution or not forgiven unless they report the crime” to authorities.
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