Archbishop Fisher: Priests will suffer punishment before breaking confessional seal

Confessional Credit Pleuntje via Flickr CC BY SA 20 CNA Pleuntje via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Amid attacks on the seal of confession in Australia, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney has said priests will suffer punishment before betraying their sacred obligations.

Confession "is threatened today both by neglect and attack. But priests will, we know, suffer punishment, even martyrdom, rather than break the seal of Confession," Archbishop Fisher said April 1 during his homily for Easter Sunday at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney.

"For Confession is a privileged encounter between penitent and God; here the Christian enters the silence and secrecy of the Tomb, to be re-Eastered; and no earthly authority may enter there."

Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended last year that priests be legally obliged to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, and that failure to do so be made a criminal offense.

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne has also opposed any moves to mandate violation of the seal, having said that confession "is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries. It must remain so here in Australia…(but) outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so."

The Archbishop of Sydney's comments came as part of his teaching on the sacraments and eternal life.

In the sacraments "Christ's Paschal mystery is remembered, its fruits applied to us here and now, and a heavenly life promised us," he said. "To miss the sacraments or receive them only half-heartedly, is to fail really to participate in Holy Week. For it's through the Eucharist and Priesthood that we join Jesus' Last Supper; in Confirmation and Matrimony that we experience the climax of Good Friday; and with three more sacraments that we rise from the Empty Tomb."

"Baptism is inextricably tied to Holy Week because Jesus Himself described the crucifixion as the 'Baptism' He must suffer; Jesus Himself gave forth water from His pierced side as the source of Baptism; Jesus Himself appeared at Easter to tell His disciples to go out evangelizing and baptizing. This the Church has done ever since. As St Paul explained, to be baptized is to die with Christ, be buried with Christ, and be raised up with Christ to new life. Baptism is the sacrament of rebirth, purification, justification, eternal life…"

Archbishop Fisher noted that in the Soviet Union, baptism was called a "health menace", and, moreover, that "as recent testimony before the Ruddock Inquiry into Protection of Religious Freedom in Australia highlighted, we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia."

"Powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections, cast us as 'Public Enemy No. 1'. We may not always be as free as we are now to evangelize and baptize as Jesus mandated at the first Easter."

He then moved from baptism to confession, noting that baptism "cannot be repeated as sin, sadly, can", and thus there is the "second baptism" of confession.

"From Old Testament times we heard the call to confess our sins and we learnt of God's boundless mercy," the archbishop said. "In the fullness of time Christ came absolving sins … the newly Risen Christ passed the authority to absolve contrite sinners to the apostles, saying, 'Receive the Holy Spirit: those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained.' So Confession is another beautiful Easter gift, stirring us to contrition and resolve to sin no more, enabling a life-long journey of conversion, reconciling us to God and the Church, and giving us 'pardon and peace'."

"So the Easter sacrament of Baptism regenerates the spirit; the Easter sacrament of Penance renews the heart; but it is the Easter sacrament of Anointing that restores the body," he preached.

"Our sacrament for the sick is not green tea or cloning. Our aid to the dying not the secular sacrament of euthanasia, either … But in a country with few religious liberty protections and many pressures for euthanasia, how free will Christian health providers like St Vincent's be in the future, how free our health professionals, how free patients even, to reverence life from conception to natural death, especially when others think them burdensome or better off dead?"

"The future of our religious freedoms - and so of our sacraments - will depend whether our generation protects both the freedoms and the sacraments," Archbishop Fisher said.

He noted that "The women go to the Tomb today to anoint the broken body of Jesus and instead find it is risen."

"Like the Church after the Royal Commission and amidst many humiliations and challenges, like each of us when we feel broken of body or bruised of spirit: we need the healing power of God, anointing the sick person, even the sick Church, so we can be rebuilt, given new purpose and strength."

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"There's something even better than açai and kale here," he said, referring to "our culture's secrets to living forever or till it feels like forever."

"The Maundy Thursday sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders teach the Church to live with Christ for worship and service. The Good Friday sacraments of Holy Confirmation and Holy Matrimony reveal she must die with Christ for inspiration and love. And the Easter sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Penance and Holy Unction show we must repent and let Christ transform our spirits, hearts and bodies, that He might raise them up to eternal life."

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