South African Justice Official Opposes Secrecy of Confession

Triggers Swift Response from Archbishop of Pretoria

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, NOV. 30, 2001 ( A government official who criticized the secrecy of the confessional doesn´t know what he is talking about, says an archbishop.

«Clearly, Maduna does not understand the meaning of a sacrament,» Archbishop George Francis Daniel of Pretoria said Thursday, in response to statements made a day earlier by Justice Minister Penuell Maduna.

On Wednesday, the Justice Minister said the secrecy surrounding what´s revealed in the sacrament of penance is a serious obstacle for police operations.

«What do men of the Church and priests do, who hear in confession what a person has done?» the Minister asked.

«They go to the police and say: ´I have heard this highly interesting confession on this or that person who abuses children,´ or they say, ´Let´s protect our religion and pretend that nothing happened,´» Maduna added.

In this context, he insisted, criminals and transgressors «know that once they have spoken to the servant of God, the matter is closed.»

Archbishop Daniel´s response was quick and forceful.

«Priests would prefer to be imprisoned or executed» rather than betray the secrecy of the confessional, the archbishop said.

Maduna´s statement came at a time when South African society is faced with chronic, acute criminality. In recent months, a series of cases of child abuse has shocked the public.

From January 2000 to June 2001, police say, 32,000 sexual attacks against minors were reported.

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