Catholic Church in England and Wales will ‘carefully study’ abuse report recommendations

shutterstock 1134297812 Purple stole and confessional. | Roman023_photography/Shutterstock.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has said it will “carefully study“ the contents of a national report concerning sexual abuse, which recommends that reporting abuse to the police should be made mandatory, even if perpetrators admit to child abuse while confessing to a priest.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) released its report on Oct. 20 after seven years of investigation and evidence-gathering.

The IICSA examined a number of significant organizations and institutions and concluded that “the investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales revealed a sorry history of child sexual abuse where abusive priests and members of religious orders and institutions preyed on children for prolonged periods of time.”

When outlining a way forward that might mitigate against further abuse, the report states: “Neither the freedom of religion or belief nor the rights of parents with regard to the education of their children can ever justify the ill treatment of children or prevent government authorities from taking measures necessary to protect children from harm. The Inquiry, therefore, considers that mandatory reporting as set out in this report should be an absolute obligation; it should not be subject to exceptions based on relationships of confidentiality, religious or otherwise.”

Following the release of the report, the Catholic Council for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse issued a cautious statement that welcomed the report, offered an “unreserved apology to victims” but also said it would “will carefully study its contents and recommendations.” However, the statement made no mention of the recommendation concerning mandatory reporting.

However, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales — Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is also archbishop of Westminster — told the IICSA in 2019 that the seal of confession is sacred. He described it as “an essential part of the exercise of priesthood, as a nexus between my sinful humanity and the mercy of God. And I would defend the seal of the confession, absolutely.”

He also made clear that mandatory reporting would break this seal and that the bishops of England and Wales would reject any moves to bring in a law to that effect. He reminded the Inquiry that history shows that a number of Catholics previously died in defense of the seal of confession.

Meanwhile, the Church of England is also weighing up the report’s recommendation concerning mandatory reporting and confession. Under the Church of England’s canon law, a priest is also not allowed to repeat anything a penitent confesses to them.

However, the Church of England’s House of Bishops will now officially examine the seal of confession in light of IICSA’s recommendations, which may result in them accepting its recommendation. They are expected to deliberate on the question for the next 12 months.

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