Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has said he’ll risk going to jail rather than report what’s said to him in the sacrament of confession, even if what’s confessed relates to child sexual abuse.
His latest comments, made on ABC radio, were responding to a recommendation from the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse to make reporting child sexual abuse allegations mandatory in institutions including when an allegation is made in religious confession. Failure to report would be a criminal offence.
The recommendation is one of a suite of proposed reforms to improve transparency and reporting of sexual abuse and improve the law’s effectiveness to apprehend sexual abusers and protect children.
Archbishop Hart wouldn’t report something said in confession by a child who’s been abused or by an abuser. Non-Catholics don’t understand confession, he said. Confession is sacrosanct, above the law, which is what makes it different from other forms of telling. It’s communication with God of a higher order.
You can believe it or not, as you wish, but it is what they believe and they’ll be sticking to it.
There is an added piquancy to this particular tale:
When I was 16, I went to confession. I wish the priest had reported what I’d told him
When I was 16, I went to confession for real. I’d been sexually abused by a Catholic high school teacher and her husband. I went to see a priest on the suggestion of one of my abusers, because I was so upset.
The priest I saw gave me absolution which didn’t make me any less upset. I can’t remember what the penance was. He didn’t do anything about what I told him as far as I know. I guess he maintained the seal of confession, the higher order communication with God in Archbishop Hart’s terms. I wish he had done something, reported what I’d told him to my school, parents or the police, because I’d have been far less harmed. What happened to me after that time has had lifelong consequences. I was a child who had a child. The priest let me down badly.
Perhaps reporting it to the police, the headmaster, might have helped a bit?
The Catholic church is not above the law. It’s not above anything. It’s down here on Earth with the rest of us and ought to be more concerned about protecting children than protecting its practices.
No, you’ve really not grasped the internal driver of the Church, have you? Sure, you can believe it or not, as you wish, but they certainly think that they’re dealing with the next world, not this one.