Priests Could Break Law over Confession; Church-State Collision over Reporting Child Abuse

Daily Mail (London), April 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Priests Could Break Law over Confession; Church-State Collision over Reporting Child Abuse


Byline: Niamh Lyons Political Correspondent

THE Church is on a collision course with the State over new laws that will require priests to break the seal of the confessional.

The clergy and members of religious communities are among those who will face up to ten years in prison if they fail to report child sexual abuse to the authorities.

However, legal and religious experts have criticised the Government for 'very bad lawmaking', saying the legislation will create an obligation which priests cannot live up to under Canon Law.

Relations have soured considerably since the Coalition took office last year. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is pushing through a range of measures to secularise schools while the Taoiseach launched a comprehensive criticism of the Vatican in the wake of the Cloyne report.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday said the new laws, expected to be enacted by the end of the year, are one element of a suite of legislation to protect children and vulnerable adults.

Separate child protection measures will compel the likes of schools, religious groups and sports clubs to report suspected abuse.

The new provisions will require anyone who has knowledge of a child being abused to report that information to the authorities or face up to ten years' imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the abuse. Mr Shatter confirmed that Catholic priests given information about abuse in confessionals would also be obliged to report it.

However, he criticised the 'media obsession' with whether a priest breaches the seal of confession. He said there were no references to it being a problem in any of the diocesan reports into child sexual abuse.

He said: 'The problem that arose was that they knew who abusers were for a whole range of reasons. It wasn't what someone said in confessional; they got reports from victims of abuse and we know they were aware of that abuse. …

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