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Irish priests will refuse to break seal of confession if proposal becomes law
A confessional like those used in Catholic parishes. Credit: Paul Lowry
A confessional like those used in Catholic parishes. Credit: Paul Lowry
By Katherine Veik

.- Catholic priests in Ireland are prepared to “strongly” resist a proposed law that would require them to disclose information learned in confession.

“More than any other issue, it is probably the one that will unite both the liberal and conservative wings of the Church,” said Father Tony Flannery, a priest with the Association of Catholic Priests, in a July 18 e-mail to CNA.

“If even one exception was made to the seal of Confession, then the whole Sacrament would collapse,” he stated. “The truth of faith that this Sacrament is meant to convey is central to Christian teaching.”

The legislation, proposed by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, would put priests in jail for up to five years if they failed to tell authorities about sexual abuse crimes disclosed during confession.

Fr. Flannery said that the Association of Catholic Priests has not taken the proposed law very seriously, because it is simply not “workable.”

“When a person confesses in the confessional box, the priest would not normally know who they are, or indeed be able to see them,” he explained. “So how is he to report them?”

It is also “unlikely” that a person involved in abuse would go to confession, Fr. Flannery pointed out.

“In my forty years of priesthood, I don't ever remember someone confessing that they were currently abusing someone,” he said.

He noted that the prime minister’s bill also fails to address implications for other professions, and things that are said in other privileged situations of confidentiality.

It also opens the door for other crimes becoming exceptions, requiring further breaches of the confessional seal.

“Why make this one the only crime to be reported?” Fr. Flannery wondered.

The priest contends the proposed law is a “total over-reaction” to the recently released Cloyne Report, a study that found the Diocese of Cloyne failed to report nine cases of sexual abuse between the years 1996 and 2005.

Fr. Flannery predicted lawmakers would be “more calm and reasoned about all this” after a few months have passed.

But he made clear that “if this does come to law - which I do not expect - priests will resist it strongly.”

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