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“The report recommends there be no exception, excuse, protection or privilege from the offence granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession.”

This is one of 85 recommendations made by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Sydney Morning Herald, August 15, 2017 –  page one !).  It would make failing to report information about child sexual abuse disclosed in confession a criminal offence.  Not surprisingly, Archbishop Hart, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, said religious confessions should remain protected.

Does this cover murder ?  Readers may remember my story about the young priest revealing that his first penitent had confessed murdering someone, while in the pub nearby a man at the bar was telling his mates that he had been the new curate’s first penitent . . .

More seriously, priests never felt obliged to “break the seal of confession” by reporting to the authorities ANYTHING they had heard while administering the Sacrament of Penance.  “Bless me, Father, for I am a serial killer and feel impelled to murder a ninth victim”.  Would  a confessor report that to the police ?  Never in a million years !  So why expect that forcing revelation to police of the identity of a pedophile penitent (presuming the priest knew or could acquire his/her identity) could be accepted by the Church ?  Would Rome or Catholics anywhere accept legal condemnation of a confessor discovered to have covered up such crimes ?  And if a law were made to oblige confessors to reveal the crime of pederasty – as the laws in certain countries oblige the medical profession to do – why not murder, theft, embezzlement, tax-evasion, wife-beating, burglary ? – just about every crime in the book.  Only confessors absolving penitents for impure thoughts or telling white lies would be off the hook.

There is, however, a positive side to all  this.  As it is hard to imagine that a criminal guilty of any crime would willingly confess it to a priest if he knew that the Law obliged the latter to report it to the police – unless he were already in prison or perhaps on death-row – many people might think twice before going to confession.  How solid is that seal of confession ?

The demise of the illusion that priests can forgive us in the name of a non-existent God is a consummation devoutly to be wished.  The Catholic Church, unique among the world’s religions, has for too long made this arrogant and absurd claim.  I am embarrassed to have to admit that for seven years I never questioned that claim as I ended each confession I heard with the Latin of “I absolve thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”.  And people thought that God, through me, had wiped their slate clean !  I was naïve enough to believe it myself.