Debate over Seal of Confession

Article excerpt

A statement by Australia's Federal Attorney General Nicola Roxon that the national royal commission into child sex abuse should look into requiring Catholic priests to break the seal of confession in cases of serious sex offenses generated much discussion inside and outside the church, even as Roxon tried to downplay the issue.

Roxon, who is responsible for setting up the commission, said that of far more importance was 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.

New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell said that priests hearing confessions of pedophilia should be subject to mandatory reporting. "I struggle to understand ... that if a priest confesses to another priest that he's been involved in pedophile activities, that that information should not be brought to police," he told the state parliament.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that she believes it is an issue that the royal commission should consider and one member of parliament has described the government's recognition of the seal as a "medieval law that needs to change."

Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott, Australia's most prominent lay Catholic and a close associate of Pell's, said priests have a duty to report abuse even if that means breaking the seal of confession. …