The Catholic Church has not accepted the royal commission’s recommendation to break the seal of confession regarding child sex abuse, arguing it impinges on religions liberties. Almost nine months after the findings were handed down, the Catholic Church has delivered its formal reply rejecting one of the commission’s key recommendations.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a Response to the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today.
In summary, the media release tells,
You will see in this document that the bishops and religious leaders have accepted or accepted in principle or supported 98 per cent of the Royal Commission’s recommendations. The one recommendation we cannot accept is Recommendation 7.4, which refers to the seal of the Sacrament of Penance (seal of the Confessional). This is because it is contrary to our faith and inimical to religious liberty. We are committed to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people while maintaining the seal. We do not see safeguarding and the seal as mutually exclusive.
The Catholic bodies used their response to argue that children would be less safe if mandatory reporting of confessions was required.
A perpetrator or victim might be less likely to raise abuse in confession if confidence in the sacramental seal was undermined, the response said.
“So an opportunity would be lost to encourage a perpetrator to self-report to civil authorities or victims to seek safety,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Church said it would consider a recommendation from the commission on voluntary celibacy.
The ACBC said expert theological and canonical advice will be sought on changing canon laws so celibacy is not mandatory.
“Inadequate initial and continuing formation of priests … for celibate living may have contributed to a heightened risk of child sexual abuse,” the response said.
“[But] … the royal commission made no finding of a casual connection between celibacy and child sexual abuse.”
The report concludes that the Church will do all it can and that the responses given are not exhaustive.
The Catholic Church is often thought of as monolithic, but in reality it is a diverse and highly decentralised institution, in both civil law and canon law. The responses of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia to the recommendations of the Royal Commission apply to the full extent of the authority of the bishops and religious leaders. They cannot however, speak for the entire Catholic Church, given that there are limits to their authority.