Sacrament of Confession Threatened by Irish Legislation

Prelates, Priests Affirm Resolve to Protect Inviolable Seal

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DUBLIN, Ireland, APRIL 30, 2012 ( Last Wednesday the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, announced the publication of a bill related to the protection of children regarding sexual abuse.

The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012l “is one element of a suite of legislation to protect children and vulnerable adults to which the Government is committed,” according to the government’s press release on the matter.

Under the proposed legislation it will be a criminal offence to withhold information on sexual offences committed against a child or a vulnerable person.

The proposal has caused an outcry because of concerns that the obligation to report this information will include matters confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, thus obliging priests to break the seal of confession.

«The seal of the confessional is inviolable as far as I am concerned, and that’s the end of the matter,» declared Bishop Raymond Field, an auxiliary bishop of Dublin, in comments reported in the Irish Independent the following day.

Even the Association of Catholic Priests, which is noted for its liberal position on a variety of doctrinal issues, came out against the proposal: «I certainly wouldn’t be willing to break the seal of confession for anyone,” said Father Sean McDonagh of the Association, according to the Irish Independent.

There is some confusion, however, on whether the bill will actually oblige priests to break the seal of confession. An April 26 article published in the Irish Times said that the Justice ministry was not able to confirm on Wednesday night whether priests would be obliged to report to police offences that they become aware of when hearing confessions.

Nevertheless, in comments reported by the Irish Times last Friday the Justice minister said that the new law would compel priests to disclose information obtained in confession. He also said that complaints by the Church over this issue were a “diversion” from the Church’s failure to adequately report abuse committed by priests.

The bill will be introduced into the Irish parliament in a few weeks time.

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