Australian Bill Aims to Break Seal of Confessional

ADELAIDE, Australia, SEPT. 18, 2003 ( A Catholic archbishop wants to meet with a member of the state Parliament who proposed legislation that would force priests to report confessions of child sex abuse.

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The bill by Nick Xenophon, the Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, would require priests, church workers and all volunteers who work with children to notify authorities of child abuse concerns, including priests hearing confessions, the Adelaide Advertiser reported.

The political opposition said it would not support the part of the bill relating to church confessions because the «sanctity of the confessional» had been in place for centuries and should not be broken.

Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson said the privilege of confession was an area of «utmost sanctity» and said he will seek a meeting to discuss the legislation introduced Tuesday.

The archbishop noted that the privilege of confession has been enshrined in the Common Law system. Under canon law, the sacramental seal is inviolable. «Every priest knows they can say nothing — even in the face of threat or punishment or jail,» Archbishop Wilson said.

However, he said any person who came for confession with an issue regarding a crime would be strenuously encouraged to give himself up to police and to receive appropriate treatment.

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