Catholic priests have said they are “willing to go to jail” rather than violate the Seal of Confession after Australian states and territories pass and consider laws forcing them to break the confessional seal to report abusers.

“The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” – Code of Canon Law 983 §1

Early last month, the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory passed a bill extending mandatory reporting of child abuse in Canberra to churches, including the confessional. This law would effectively make it a criminal action for a priest not to break the seal of confession in cases of child abuse, an automatic case of excommunication.

While initially the assembly was supposed to meet with Archbishop Prowse of Canberra to discuss the importance of the seal of confession and the protection of children, the legislature passed the bill before the meeting could take place. Archbishop Prowse denounced the missed opportunity for dialogue, and stated he believed the new law will not contribute to a safer environment for children.

“What sexual abuser would confess to a priest if they thought they would be reported? If the seal is removed, the remote possibility that they would confess and so could be counselled to report is gone.”

Catholic priests in the diocese and around the country have come out and publicly said they would rather be tried and go to jail than violate the sacrality of the seal of confession.

“The state will be requiring us as Catholic priests to commit what we regard as the most serious crime, and I’m not willing to do that.” said Father Michael Whelan, a priest from Saint Patrick’s Church Hill in Sydney.” Father Whelan added that he and other priests would be “willing to go to jail” rather than “commit as what we regard as the most serious crime.”

Archbishop Prowse is hopeful for dialogue with government officials, saying “it is vital we get this right,” and that he supports a reporting plan in general, but not one that would force priests to violate the seal of confession.

“We urge the chief minister to allow the Catholic community into this conversation to ensure we are part of the solution.Together we can ensure the protection of children’s rights and uphold the integrity of our sacraments.”

Historically, four priests have been martyred for protecting the solemnity of the seal of confession. Saints John Nepomucene and Mateo Correa Magallanes along with Fathers Fernando Olmedo Reguera and Felipe Císcar Puig were all killed for not revealing what they had heard during the Sacrament of Penance.

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  1. “… but not one that would force priests to violate the seal of confession.” This is badly phrased, because it is very unlikely that it is POSSIBLE to force a priest to violate the seal of confession. Here are two ways that could have been phrased better:
    “… but not one that would punish priests who refuse to violate the seal of confession.”
    “… but not one that would attempt to coerce priests to violate the seal of confession.”
    The point is that the priests retain their free will, and they remain responsible for their choices.

  2. There is no way of phrasing it. The Seal of Confession is sacred how dare any government threaten a priest with jail time if he does not follow such law. Priests have been tortured in the past and have not broken the Seal of Confession and the foolish Australian government thinks that a jail threat is going to scare the priests. That law was passed by people who have no biblical understanding of what the Sacrament of Penance is. That law is so ridiculous that once the body that passed it understands it, will have to change it, or it’ll just be ignored as no priest can obey it. The priest answers to God and HIs Church only. Not to the Australian or any-other government on earth in the discharge of his duties.

  3. Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “When freedom is in jeopardy, non-co-operation may be a duty and prison may be a palace. I care so deeply about this matter that I’m willing to take on the legal penalties, to sit in this prison cell, to sacrifice my freedom, in order to show you how deeply I care. Because when you see the depth of my concern, and how civil I am in going about this, you’re bound to change your mind about me, to abandon your rigid, unjust position, and to let me help you see the truth of my cause”.

  4. This world just gets more and more stupid every day.
    First of all, many people go to Confession BEHIND THE SCREEN. So many times the Priest doesn’t even know to whom he is speaking. So how is he to report the penitents in the first place?!
    Second, any Priest worth his salt will NEVER break the Seal of Confession. Too many non-believers are under the illusion that the Church can change Her doctrines at will ~ which She canNOT. And to think they can force a Priest to do otherwise is ludicrous.

  5. Ichc Uxihng, you have no idea what you are saying, you have no understanding of excommunication. A persons life is a puff of smoke in time. Ones soul will be in Eternity forever. Most Catholics, whom are devout spend their whole lives trying to be faithful and seeking eternal life. Priests, who dedicate their lives to God, especially. Confession is such a wonderful feeling after absolution. You feel clean. As we are sinners on this earth, we need Confession. And a person needs to know the Priest will keep our sins in confidence, so we can continue to try to be better and sinless for heaven.
    Excommunication is denial of heaven forever. Laura


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