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Confession Above the Law: Archbishop Hart

Last edited 15th August 2017

Confession Above the Law: Archbishop Hart

The Archbishop said the sacredness of communication with God during confession should be above the law.

He was responding to a report from the child sex abuse royal commission calling for reforms that, if adopted by governments, would see failure to report child sex abuse in institutions become a criminal offence, extending to information given in religious confessions.

Speaking to ABC Radio 774 in Melbourne, Archbishop Hart said he stood by comments he made in 2011 that priests would rather be jailed than violate the sacramental seal.

“I believe [confession] is an absolute sacrosanct communication of a higher order that priests by nature respect,” he said yesterday.

“We are admitting a communication with God is of a higher order,” he said. “It is a sacred trust. It’s something those who are not Catholics find hard to understand but we believe it is most, most sacred and it’s very much part of us.”

He said much of the abuse that occurred was historical and awareness of abuse was greater now, and he believed it was unlikely “anything would ever happen” today.

But if someone were to confess they had been sexually abused or they knew of someone who had been, Archbishop Hart said it would be adequate to encourage them to tell someone else outside of confession. For example, he would encourage a child to tell a teacher, who are already mandated under law to report.

Meanwhile, Attorney-General George Brandis responded to the commission’s recommendations by saying there were “important issues of religious freedom” to consider.

Speaking to ABC’s Radio National program yesterday, Senator Brandis said he was yet to read the recommendations from the commission’s report, released on Monday. But he said: “The law does and always has protected certain categories of intimate professional relationships.”

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