Bishop says sanctity of confession must be upheld

The region’s highest-ranking Catholic does not believe priests should be compelled to report child abuse admissions made during the sanctity of Confession.

Bishop Peter Ingham, head of the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong – which encompasses the entire Macarthur region – says Catholic faith dictates the Seal of Confession “cannot be broken” and it is equally important to “preserve the sanctity” of confession and “protect, defend and help children”.

He said it was not an “either or” situation, but rather a “both and”.

The Bishop has clarified his position in response to a recent recommendation out of the Royal Commission into child abuse within the Catholic church.

The recommendation suggested priests should be compelled by law to report to authorities any instances of child abuse admitted to them during Confession.

Bishop Ingham said the safe space of the confessional box was what encouraged people to use it.

“That is what gives penitents – those seeking forgiveness – the confidence to seek the forgiveness of their sins,” he said.

“A confessor (the priest) who intentionally breaks the seal comes under serious sanctions from the Church.

“It is understandable and worth remembering that penitents often want their confession to be anonymous.”

Bishop Ingham said it was likely fewer people would visit Confession if they believed it was no longer confidential.

“Due to the current publicity over the issue, what is now a rather rare occurrence will become even rarer,” he said.

“If the criminal law were to demand priests break the Seal of Confession as proposed, I cannot imagine that a sex abuser or criminal would want to come to Confession or Reconciliation at all.”

The Bishop said he had been practising as a priest for 53 years and had always been trained to uphold the sanctity of Confession.

He was, however, examining “what [he] would do if confronted by the situation” of a penitent confessing child abuse.

“If a child victim of abuse mentioned this in Confession (or Reconciliation) I would tell the child to go and tell the teacher who also has the obligation of reporting,” he said.

“If a penitent confessed sexual abuse of another, I would suggest we terminate the Sacrament and ask the person to speak to me about it outside the context of Confession (or Reconciliation).”

Ingleburn priest Father Peter Caruana, from the Holy Family Parish, expressed a similar sentiment to the Bishop.

“All the proposal would achieve is that people wouldn’t want to come to Confession anymore,” he said.

“They wouldn’t go and seek forgiveness for their sins.

“They wouldn’t admit to any wrongdoing if they knew their confessor was compelled by law to report it – that is my opinion.”

The Advertiser contacted St Paul’s Parish Camden, St John the Evangelist Parish Campbelltown, St Anthony’s Parish Picton-Tahmoor, Our Lady Help of Christians Parish Rosemeadow and St Mary Mackillop Parish Oran Park for comment but did not receive a response.

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