Archbishop: I’d go to jail over confessional seal

What happened?

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said he would go to jail rather than break the seal of Confession. His remarks to ABC Radio Melbourne came after Australia’s royal commission recommended that priests face criminal penalties if they fail to divulge accounts of abuse heard in Confession. Archbishop Hart said Confession was “absolutely sacrosanct”, a “communication with God” that is “of a higher order”. Its confidentiality, he said, is a “fundamental part of the freedom of religion”.

What Australian media are saying

The archbishop’s case was given short shrift by some. Lucie Morris-Marr, at the New Daily site, described it as a “tantrum”. She argued that child abuse “isn’t a sin that can be forgiven or ignored in the confession box” but a “heinous crime” requiring “many long, miserable years in a jail cell. Ideally a putrid one.” Susie O’Brien, writing for the Herald Sun, asked why the Church wanted to “forgive” and “protect” paedophiles.

Fr Frank Brennan, at the Sydney Morning Herald, said he, like the archbishop, would “conscientiously refuse to comply with the law”. If the Seal of Confession no longer applied, he wrote, the chance of an abuser confessing was even more remote. That would “snuff out” the slim possibility that the abuser “might be convinced by the priest to turn himself in”.

What Catholics are saying

Joanna Moorhead, writing for the Guardian, said the confidentiality of the confessional “goes to the heart of what all Christians believe, which is that no sin is so wicked that it cannot be forgiven by God”. She wrote: “The child abuser, in common with any sinner – indeed, any human being – is forgivable and will always be forgivable, even if only by God. To deny that seems to me to deny our humanity.”

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