Catholic Church won't break seal of confession on abuse

Australia's Catholic leaders have vowed the church's shameful child sexual abuse history will never be repeated.

Australia's Catholic leaders have vowed to end the cover-up of child sexual abuse but steadfastly refuse to break the seal of confession, even if it means priests could face criminal charges.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge and Sister Monica Cavanagh, the president of Catholic Religious Australia representing 150 religious orders, released the Australian Catholic Church response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse during a media conference in Sydney on Friday.

The Australian report was completed after consultation with the Vatican.

The leaders vowed the Catholic Church's shameful history of priests and others in its ranks sexually abusing children will never be repeated, pledging accountability and a plan of action in response to a royal commission's call for sweeping reforms.

But Archbishop Coleridge said they would not yield to the royal commission's call to break the seal of confession to reveal child sexual abuse, saying it contrary to their faith and would hamper religious liberty.

Priests won't report information relating to child sex abuse made in confession.
Source: AAP

"This isn't because we regard ourselves as being above the law, but because we don't think the safety of children is supremely important - we do. But we don't accept that safeguarding and the seal are mutually exclusive," said Archbishop Coleridge.

He said the call to abolish priest privilege showed a lack of understanding of what happens in confession and it could even make children "less safe".

"Were trusting inviolability of the seal undermined, any child mentioning this to a priest would also be seriously diminished, any chance of a priest to impress upon the victim they need to inform responsible adults, outside confession, and find a way to safety, would also be lost."

Voluntary celibacy a 'possibility'

Australia's child abuse royal commission called on the church to consider voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy, despite acknowledging it has been a major strand of the Catholic tradition from the earliest centuries.

But when asked by reporters what voluntary celibacy would look like and if it was at all possible, Archbishop Coleridge was not so convincing it would happen any time soon, if at all.

He said "in theory" voluntary celibacy was a possibility but would have to be decided by the universal church.

Archbishop Coleridge said the Holy See was likely to act on some of the royal commission's recommendations, but not on others.

"I suspect that on that question of mandatory celibacy, given its implications for the church in every place around the world, that there won't be much movement on that particular issue," he said.

'Never again'

The royal commission, held over more than 400 days, heard from more than 8,000 witnesses and received more than 1,300 written accounts.

Most abuse survivors were male and were aged between 10-14 when first abused.

Archbishop Coleridge said many changes had been made since the horrific reality of the child sexual abuse became known, but they were sometimes too slow and too timid.

"Those failures allowed some abusers to offend again and again, with tragic and sometimes fatal consequences," he said in a statement on Friday.

"The bishops and leaders of religious orders pledge today: Never again.

"There will be no cover-up. There will be no transferring of people accused of abuse. There will be no placing the reputation of the church above the safety of children."

Sr Monica said the church had already started to change a number of practices including in the screening of people training to be priests or religious sisters or brothers.

We know that sorrow and contrition are not enough.

           Sister Monica Cavanagh

"We as a church have said sorry before and we will continue to say that we are sorry, but we know that sorrow and contrition are not enough. Visible actions are now required. We know too that the task before us requires resolve and a plan to ensure that the past is never repeated," Sister Cavanagh said.

Sister Monica Cavanagh, the president of Catholic Religious Australia representing 150 religious orders, told reporters in Sydney on Friday, August 31, that safeguarding children was at the heart of the Australian Catholic community.

"Changing the culture of our church to be answerable and open is part of the action that needs to occur."

Where to now?

The church's key royal commission adviser wants it to appoint an ombudsman or oversight body to investigate complaints and make recommendations to improve systems, processes and the appropriate use of power in the church.

"Such a body would need to have teeth," the Truth Justice and Healing Council said in a report released on Friday.

It will be up to Pope Francis and his advisers to act on many of the Australian child abuse royal commission's far-reaching recommendations and its implications for centuries-old canon law.

The ACBC has started discussions with the Holy See about the commission's recommendations dealing with the discipline and doctrine of the universal church.

The royal commission called on the Holy See to make numerous changes to centuries-old church canon law including that the "pontifical secret" does not apply to abuse allegations and to consider voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.

Published 31 August 2018 at 11:04am, updated 31 August 2018 at 2:31pm