Saturday, 19 August 2017

Melbourne's archbishop says he'd rather go to jail than report child abuse heard in confession

Image result for archbishop denis hart

Denis Hart says ‘communication with God is of a higher order’ after child sex abuse inquiry calls for failure to report to become a criminal offence.

Archbishop Denis Hart says Catholic priests would rather be jailed than violate the sacramental seal. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP

The archbishop of the archdiocese of Melbourne, Denis Hart, said he would risk going to jail rather than report allegations of child sexual abuse raised during confession, and that 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, Hart said he stood by comments he made in 2011 that priests would rather be jailed than violate the sacramental seal.
Clergy who fail to report child abuse heard in confession should be charged – royal commission

Read more
“I believe [confession] is an absolute sacrosanct communication of a higher order that priests by nature respect,” Hart said on Tuesday morning.
“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, 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.

Confession, he added, was “perhaps the only opportunity where a person who has offended or a child who has been hurt can have the opportunity for broader advice,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 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 on Tuesday morning, Brandis said he was yet to read the recommendations from the child sex abuse royal commission’s report, released on Monday, due to “other ambient political events of the day”, presumably questions around the deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s citizenship.

But he said: “The law does and always has protected certain categories of intimate professional relationships.”

In its report the commission said it understood the significance of religious confession, “in particular, the inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths, particularly the Catholic faith”.

“However, we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators. We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt,” the report said.

“We heard evidence that perpetrators who confessed to sexually abusing children went on to reoffend and seek forgiveness again.”

Father Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest and professor of law at the Australian Catholic University, joined Hart in saying he would not adhere to any legislative changes.

“And if there is a law that says that I have to disclose it, then yes, I will conscientiously refuse to comply with the law,’’ Brennan told the Australian.
‘‘All I can say is that in 32 years no one has ever come near me and confessed anything like that. And instituting such a law, I say, simply reduces rather than increases the prospect that anyone ever will come and confess that to me.’’
The CEO of the Australian Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, who has previously expressed frustration at the church’s lack of action in addressing child sexual abuse, said the seal of confession was one of the universal laws of the church.

 Even for child abusers, confessional confidentiality is sacrosanct
Joanna Moorhead

4He said should Australia change the law, priests would be expected to obey the law, like everybody else, or suffer the consequences.

“If they do not this will be a personal, conscience decision on the part of the priest that will have to be dealt with by the authorities in accordance with the new law as best they can,” he said.

Brisbane’s Catholic archbishop, Mark Coleridge, said the relationship between priest and penitent in the sacrament of penance is unlike any other relationship, because the penitent speaks not to the priest but to God, with the priest only a mediator.

“That needs to be kept in mind when making legal decisions about the seal of the confessional,” he told his diocesan newspaper the Catholic Leader.

“So too does the need to protect the young and vulnerable in every way possible.”


The "Seal of Confession" has always been regarded as sacred and absolutely binding by Catholic priests.

Confession is about:

1. The Confession of Sin.
2. True sorrow.
3. A firm purpose not to commit the sin again.
4. The performance of a penance given by the priest.
5. The obligation on the penitent to make restitution to anyone harmed.

The priest being told by an abuser in Confession that he has abused - or worse still IS abusing is being put in avery difficult position.

Obviously if the abuser does not promise to stop abusing in the future most priests would refuse absolution.

A doctor or a counsellor in the same position is advised to let the authorities know about the crime.

Some would say that the same obligation should be placed on Catholic priests?

Very often of course the priest will not know the person is or where they are from.

I think a wise priest would advise the penitent to hand themselves over to the authorities and gey help - even if it means also being punished.

This is a big dilema for both the Church and civil authorities.

I would be interested to know readers views on this.



Image result for mary bridget meehan

Bishop Mary Bridget Meehan will celebrate a Eucharist Service at The Oratory, Larne, tomorrow at 12 noon.

She will speak about her movement in the USA and her desire to spread it world wide.

There will be discussion and dialogue after the Eucharist Service.



  1. I know that if I meet a psychologist and I sat certain things then those things would not be covered by privilege. It's fine for confession to have the same restriction. Protect children not pharacies

  2. This question of abuse being told in Confession is a very great dilemma and I think on balance the priest should be fully trained as a seminarian in how to respond and give the best advice possible to the perpetrator. This should undoubtedly be to counsel him to confess to someone outside the Seal of Confession and seek help even though that means turning over a new leaf and facing up to his punishment. If the abuser is unable to promise a firm purpose of amendment, then his Confession is a sham anyway. Children who talk about abuse should always be advised to tell parents or teacher or even ask a classmate to break the ice by telling their teacher on their behalf if all else fails. . A teacher is bound by law to report suspected abuse nowadays and he/she will prioritise the child without question. (The teacher is bound to report it to the authorities, but not bound to go ahead and investigate but he/she will, however, continue to closely observe and listen to the concerns of the child to ensure that the matter is being dealt with by those whose job it is) There are so many difficulties unfortunately which would arise from demanding that the Seal of Confession be broken for this crime. Firstly, one could argue that if the Seal could be broken for the crime of abuse, then why keep it for other serious crimes, such as murder? How serious would the abuse have to be - - would there be a sliding scale? Would the fact that the abuser was aware that the priest was BOUND to shop him to the authorities prevent him taking that first tentative step towards admitting that he had done serious wrong towards a young or vulnerable person? I do not think that if the priest was permitted to report abuses that there would be new cases being brought to light and acted upon in comparison with now - for the abusers would simply make sure that the priests heard nothing and were told nothing--or at least nothing truthful about the abusers themselves . Younger children and even teenagers would be uneasy also and lose their sense of trusting the priest. More might be actually lost than gained. So you see what I mean about it being nowhere as simple as it first appears and being fraught with difficulties. Worst of all, of course, because of the conditions of the confessional, there would be huge potential for serious mistakes and mistaken identity problems which could potentially ruin innocent careers and lives. Not only that- it would be probably very easy for a canny lawyer to destroy a case instantly in Court because of the serious weaknesses in it. He would have a field day! So all in all, I think the Seal of Confession should remain in the sense that the priest understands it. However, he should be able to report in general terms to the authorities in an area or environment, that "abuse is taking place and should be investigated". What he can't do is repeat individual confessions verbatim. It would be pretty useless anyway if he was called as a Court witness (for all the reasons I have given). In the worst case scenario, someone guilty could get off scot free who otherwise would have been convicted.. I say this as an independent Child Protection Officer who most certainly wants everything possible done to protect children and safeguard them. They are my priority but we have to face up to the reality of how things are done - how abusers dodge authority and how they lie, even to themselves or about other people, how evidence falls down in Court if there's the slightest flaw in how it was gathered, heard and presented--so many grey areas, if's and but's-. So on balance, what seems like a good idea to have the priest break the Seal might not cause any increase in abusers being brought to justice but rather the very opposite effect and with a huge breakdown in overall trust for everyone who ventures into the confessional. I know very well that you could attempt to make the opposite case in debate but I am keeping it realistic here. I am telling it as it really is in this muddy world.

    1. Penitents should not list their sins to a nominal priest, but to the only priest, Christ himself. And then only as an act of self-admission, since Christ already knows our sins.

      A priest who wants to hear a litany of sins (and so-called 'sins') is a voyeur and needs counselling.

    2. I went to see a Jesuit priest recently for some advice. Before we started he said if it was anything to do with safeguarding he would be obliged to report it to the relevant authorities.

    3. MourneManMichael19 August 2017 at 13:06

      Anon @ 02:30: I appreciate your reference to this "muddy world". It shows understanding of the reality that many questions of moral judgement are indeed much complicated by our human condition.
      In contrast, many of the views, judgements and doctrines of the RC church appear to have a dogmatic absolutist perspective, fixed and unchanging throughout all time. Aquinas's philosophy and theology appears to be very central to much of the RC church's historical stance.
      I am very pleased to acknowledge the huge improvements in child protection practice you rightly draw attention to Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    4. Thanks for your response MMM (I posted at 2.30..)

  3. I have no sympathy with these self-serving, self-aggrandising clerical parasites. We know that they were not reporting to legal authorities the sexual abuse of children that they were aware of OUTSIDE the so-called 'seal of confession'. So the defence of 'sacramental seal' is an obvious red herring.

    The truth is most of the abuse they were aware of had been committed by fellow clerical parasites, and parasites always work together.

    Historically, Roman Catholic clerical parasites have never had much regard for children..unless they found them physically appealing. And very many of them did.

    Personally, I'd be more than happy if these parasites were rounded up and incarcerated for life. But then, who'd want to make martyrs of parasites?

    1. Magna, what an ignorant rant. Did you not get a good night's sleep? I am no "parasite", never was, never will be. As a priest I follow clearly both state and church guidelines and policies. If ever I had someone make a disclosure of a serious moral nature ; ie ; abuse of any person, I would ask to talk outside the confessional and immediately inform relevant authorities.I've done it in the past with an individial and he co-operated well. It is a .ost difficult decision to make but I am adamant that I chose
      the right path. Magna, your hatred has returned. To suggest that these "..parasites bevrounded up and incarcerated for life" . You are so capable of deep hatred..You'd be very much at home with Hitler's hench men!! Your heart and mind have regained a poisonous gene again. I'll pray that God gives you " a pure heart, a new spirit..."

    2. 08:26, so you would deceive a penitent who had confessed to you in good faith? You would have him repeat extra-sacramentally what he had told you in confession? Why? In order to 'shop' him and to give you a clear conscience for doing so.

      Didn't Christ say that what we do to others, we do also to him. Tell me: how many pieces of silver do you charge for such betrayal? Any at all?

    3. Magna, I think we must acknowledge that only a small number of Catholic priests are paedophiles?

      We do of course not know the number of priests and bishops who engaged in the cover up of abuse - but hardly the majority of 400,000?

      There are not many priests that I have a lot of time for.

      But we should keep the record accurate?

    4. Bishop Pat, we could indeed keep the record accurate, if only we knew the true and full percentage of paedophile-and-ephebophile abusing priests. But we probably will never know this.

      It is not unreasonable to suspect that the actual numbers may be much higher than many of us would care to admit. Given the nature of this atrocious crime, and the oppressive secrecy surrounding it, the likelihood is that many more priests got away with sexually abusing young people than were convicted of it?

      In the interest of justice, it is important not to understate the likely prevalence of this crime either. Yes?

  4. The problem is most people probably believe there is more chance of the abuser being the confessional priest than the other way round.

    1. 742 that is an outrageous untruth. Over 96 percent of child abuse is within the family. Keep your irrational rants to yourself.

    2. Most people do believe this, 07:42. 08:24 inhabits a fantasy world.

    3. Pat why continue allow such dangerous, horrible innuendo as in 7.42 and crack head mags at 8.30. I wonder would they say such words to a priest in a public square? Also, mag the rag should read all available research on family sexual abuse. He will be horrified - that's if he can take his nose from the bottle and his head from his a***.

    4. 14:34, 'dangerous, horrible innuendo'? How do you know this? About priests in confession? Are you sitting on unpublished information, as the odious Josef Ratzinger sat on information about child-raping priests?

      You probably haven't confessed to the priest who, in open forum, tried to pull me (a fine-featured, fair-haired, blue-eyed lad) on to his eager knee.

      Despite your near-hysterical criticism of me, you have absolutely no way of knowing how many priests are a danger to children. The actual percentage may never be known, but you can count on one thing: it is almost certainly much greater than you would care to admit.

      By the way, you must drink beer in a funny way: through your nose.

    5. How do we know YOU aren't a danger to children/young people, Magna Carta? Seeing you are so anxious to cast such aspersions on all priests.

    6. How about you, then, 19:28?

  5. This presupposes the priest knows the person in confession. Not always the case. Abuse should be reported

  6. I am feeling confused. I would find it helpful if we could have better use of the word 'Catholic'.

    When referring to your church +Pat, maybe you could write 'Independent Catholic Church'.

    To Bishop Bridget Mary Catherine Meehan's church, maybe you could write 'Inclusive Catholic Church'.

    When referring to the Church in communion with the Pope you might write 'Roman Catholic Church'.

    I think it would go a long way to clarifying what is taking place at the ceremony tomorrow in the oratory.

    1. I agree.
      To be honest I find it hard to keep up with who is Catholic, former Catholic, Methodist, want-to-be Catholic, was a Catholic.

      More clarity is needed.

  7. How many of the abusers use the confession. They believe that there doing nothing wrong hence no need to confess. Pat as a priest now as a bishop how many had you come to confess to you?

    1. In 41 years as a priest I have NEVER been told by an abuser in Confession that he/she was abusing.

      After I met abusers in the external forum and they had been to prison one or two went to Confession to me to tell God they were sorry.

    2. Would you break the seal pat?

    3. I, a priest for fifty-four years have never heard of anyone confess to abuse.
      I was never aware of any priest in my Diocese being a child-abuser until it exploded over the media.

  8. Thank you to excellent contributor @ 2.30 earlier.. You gave us much to reflect on..

  9. MourneManMichael19 August 2017 at 11:51

    "The Catholic Church is not above the law, nor above anything else. It's down here on Earth with the rest of us. It ought to be more concerned about protecting children than protecting its practices".

    That's the view expressed by Australian writer Mary Rose MacColl in the Guardian a few days ago. In her article she describes having told a priest as a 16 year old in confession that she was being abused by a Catholic teacher and her husband, and that to her knowledge, the priest did nothing. She infers that the abuse continued and that she wishes that the priest had reported what she had told him.
    Her article also refers to Ryan White's Netflix documentary series, "The Keepers" wherein confession enabled paedophile priests target vulnerable children by using the sins they confessed.
    I entirely agree with her stance from a perspective both as a former child protection specialist and a Humanist regarding 'confessional seals' and the like as man made rules of insufficient value that they can not be 'broken' in appropriate grave circumstances such as child protection.

    1. Thanks for that MMM. I would hope that the priest advised the girl (-16 yr old) to speak to her parents or another trusted adult outside the Confessional situation as soon as possible. After all, she did have the courage to speak to the priest.
      Children right up to the age of adulthood--which is 18 yrs--are coached in some very good Kidsafe programmes in their school classes and other venues nowadays and we need more of those available to make young people aware. Catholic children are repeatedly reminded that it is important to find a trusted adult outside of the Confessional situation and the reasons for that. Firstly, they are reminded that they themselves are not in any way to blame and also that it's much easier to get help from a person who must take your concerns forward. It is good that times are changing but we need the ideal conditions to be more widespread still and schools need to continue to help us with this.

    2. Every gathering in church does not have to be a mass. We venerate the Eucharist but forget about the word. We need both

    3. Sean at 13.47, you should at some stage take time out to refresh and relearn the truths of our Catholic Faith. You are a little confusing, unclear and mostly downright misleading. And too often it is difficult to know what you are saying in your words. A little illerate at times.....

    4. Yes indeed, Sean - -and that's why Readings from both the Old and New Testaments, including psalms, parables, epistles etc are part of every Holy Mass. That means it doesn't need to be an either/or situation.

    5. Word and Sacrament are two sides of the same coin. Nothing confusing about that. We need to engage appropriately with both. When I worked with schools everything in church was a mass. It was like a formula that fixed everything. We need to move beyond this.

    6. You've certainly moved well beyond things into the Church of England - enough said!!!

  10. So Pat..... you are not having mass tomorrow, but a service
    What about your faithful that enjoy your Sunday mass?

  11. Lol at Dublin Martin telling priests that their offspring come first.
    Now wouldn't you think that in 2017 any man wd know that.
    So hilarious it's not funny.

  12. We Catholics, Sean, are under pain of mortal sin...if we don't do Sunday mass

    1. So what about everyone else then. W

    2. MourneManMichael20 August 2017 at 09:45

      I think that is a distinctly odd and quaint belief probably embedded back in the days of not eating meat on Fridays.
      And in those days, the mental gymnastics of RC clerics "explaining" how this "rule" didn't also 'damn' those outside Catholicism, who had never even heard of Christianity,.....!
      'nuf said!

  13. As you said Pat, she will celebrate 'a' eucharist, not 'the' Eucharist.


  15. The norm in most countries is that absolution is only granted when the abuser has presented themselves to the appropriate authorities such as the police. I think if it is a priest it should probably also be a reserved sin, reserved to only the bishop. That way the bishop must be informed, and then he is obliged to act on that information if the penitent priest does not report himself.

    I doubt an abusing priest, or even lay person is going to go to confession unless they are truly repentant and wanting to change. I think Pat's point that in his years of ministry he has never heard anyone confess to this is probably true of most priests. So very rare would you ever hear it.

    I wish you all the best for your liturgy tomorrow Bishop Pat with Bridget. I'm sure it will be entertaining and interesting for all those gathered.

    1. Yes,all true and I think it is also important to remember that even though in a particular location, town, village, boarding school etc the priest cannot break the Seal of the confessional, he CAN legitimately help in as many ways as possible and of course, he absolutely should.
      He can alert the Principal or other appropriate Staff to seriously step up their safeguarding and protective procedures of the pupils. He can speak to Youth Club Staff in the area to be extra vigilant also. He can alert parents and make sure the Kidsafe or other educational material is being taught to the children. He can alert the police, if it seems relevant, that a particular ex-offenders hostel needs much more robust monitoring etc. He can alert a particular mother (or father)to step up their awareness of the company her child keeps or whatever seems needed in the particular circumstances. He can speak to his Parish priest and in general terms make him aware that he should be always vigilant etc with regard to his colleagues - - or whatever is appropriate as I say. All of these safeguards will help to cut down on the abuser's opportunities and thus the problem is tackled in a different way. So even though the priest didn't break the Seal of an individual confession, he can still help a great deal in his environment.

    2. @19.13

      Some very good sound ideas which should be operating in any community. Thank you.

  16. Pat, can I come to Larne to pick up the crumbs from your table celebration with Miss Meehan? Heard Brennan's bread are supplying loaves Mitchell's giving the Chianti wine!!! I have a family to feed! I'll supply baskets fir tge crumbs- 12 - but hooefully more!!

  17. There are statistics in existence over abuse, and different examples can be found at:
    (Office for National Statistics - these are for England and Wales)
    And at
    (Again UK statistics from the NSPCC)
    Statistics on child abuse are notoriously difficult because of low reporting of abuse. It takes usually at least several decades for adult survivors to come forward.
    The existing statistics on clerical sexual abuse are again difficult because of low reporting and the way full admissions have usually had to be forced from dioceses by courts. Also levels of credible accusations have varied through time.
    The one thing I keep seeing in the statistics is that most children's abusers will be known to them, which would include family members, clergy, teachers, and so on.

  18. Pat. All this nonsense about the seal of the confessional ( remember Montgomery Clift film) has long since passed its sell by date. Nobody is above the law

    1. To poster 18.29
      You are correct that nobody is above the law but I highly recommend that you read and reflect on some of the more thoughtful posts today, particularly the one at 2.30 early this morning
      (The solution is not nearly as simplistic as it first appears and these posters deal with the issues in an authoritative way which should be interesting to you)

  19. I think laws regarding a duty to report overriding the seal of confession are more about optics than actual child protection. I think laws (or proposed laws) like these make assumptions that don't hold up in reality. For example, they assume child abusers will act against the basic human impulse for self-preservation. If someone thought that there was a slight chance they would end up in jail on the back of what they say within confession I very much doubt they would take that risk. Laws like these also assume that child abusers are free from any kind of denial about what they do, which the psychological evidence would say is very much present in a lot of abusers. Laws like these assume that the priest will automatically know who every penitent is. If there was an abuser who did want to confess, I imagine there'd be a strong desire to go somewhere where he wasn't known. There's also the question of how, exactly, laws like these would be enforced - would there be recording devices in confessionals? Would police go to confession to catch out priests, and if so, how would they get around entrapment laws? For these reasons, I think laws like these are more about window dressing - looking like something important is being done - rather than about doing something of substance in terms of child protection.

    1. I agree with you @ 19.15 that it is not at all simplistic as merely scrapping the Seal of the confessional which would achieve nothing and destroy the sense of trust and confidentiality which is its hallmark. Most posters with enlightened insight today have grasped that point and probably would concur with your conclusions.

  20. Only Catholics, Sean, have to follow catholic teaching
    Other religions have their own rules
    I was brought up Catholic so don't know any different.

    1. 'Simple'? Yes, you are, if you fall for the Pharasaiacal control-freakery of Rome.

      When will you institutional automatons begin to think for yourselves instead of bending the knee, not to Jesus, but to mere Romanists?

    2. Pat, I honestly believe that Magna Carta has some sort of multiple personality disorder. One day, he's civil and sensible; the next, he's this ranting, obnoxious, odious, hysterical lunatic. Do you know him? Do you think he maybe needs help?

    3. @00.03
      Your observation is one made repeatedly here. He has been surprisingly civil for some time but I was wondering when that would change. His revelations of alcoholism and historic abuse may in part explain his behaviour (but not excuse it). He has always been very cagey here about who he is however some commenters here claim to know. He also makes the highly improbable claim to have several doctorates - in reality he doesn't seem stable enough to have one.
      My own opinion remains that he is intent on stifling intelligent debate on here, frighten people away and make Pat's blog look ridiculous.

  21. No dilemma for a priest.
    Abuse is abuse is a criminal act
    Refer any information to the authorities that will stop the abuse
    That archbishop should be jailed for his stance
    First priority...protect the innocent

  22. Wonder why I'm still alive and ticking over as I don't bother with confession.
    Actually I don't commit sin

    1. At poster 22.31..Maybe you can be grateful that by the grace of God you have no serious sin in your life but Confession--or more correctly the Sacrament of Reconciliation--could offer you so much more than you realise in helping you build on that and develop your spirituality. Otherwise you may stay the same and not progress in holiness. Work on other areas of your life to eradicate imperfections eg lack of acknowledgement of humility or more attention paid to daily prayer or time spent in helping your neighbour or those less fortunate. Think of how you perceive your family, friends and workmates if you have them and examine every thought of impatience, envy or annoyance. Once you become more aware of the infinite perfection of God you will be aware of a myriad of imperfections and opportunities to improve. If you still think you are perfect, you may have a slightly longer journey to go down this route but persevere, especially with regard to prayer.
      We are all sinners redeemed by the Blood of Christ. Every Sacrament gives us an increase in spiritual strength and awareness. Think about your life in terms of progress and growing closer to God's special plan for you. In what ways are you seeking him out and working towards your spiritual goals? I am a lay person and so maybe a priest could take you further on this (provided that he was the right person who worked a lot on his own spiritual awareness)
      Good luck and enjoy the journey!
      It is so wonderful and worth the effort.

    2. MourneManMichael20 August 2017 at 02:22

      I'm with you there Anon @ 22:31!
      Like you, I haven't bothered with that absolutely foolish and ridiculous misguided concept of "Confession" since 1970. That some may find it helpful in relieving feelings of guilt simply does not validate its validity as a 'God given absolution'. The guilt relief is simply a psychological unburdening many also find through counselling, psychotherapy etc.
      "Confession" is simply another 'bandwaggon' the RC church has capitalised on by placing their clergy in the power role as conduits of 'relief from sin' in terms of offering absolution.
      The whole matter of regarding anti social actions as 'sins' that somehow can be set aside through the confessional charade is simply preposterous. In the light of subsequent clarity of thought we may acknowledge our wrongs, and hopefully seek to redress them, but I see no value in a confessional rigmarole which may simply offer a 'cop-out' to some.