Priests 'cannot comply' with laws that break seal of confession, Tasmania's archbishop says

Porteous Archbishop Julian Porteous. | Archdiocese of Hobart

The leader of Tasmania's Catholic Church said priests in his archdiocese will not comply with a law that would require them to break the seal of confession to report suspected child abuse.

The law, passed earlier this week, makes religious ministers mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse, and requires Tasmanians with knowledge of abuse to report the crime to police, or face prison time.

Porteous said that priests are "unable" to violate the seal of confession under any circumstances, according to Australia's ABC News.

"I believe the Tasmanian bill will not strengthen protections for children and vulnerable people, but it will have the opposite effect - as offenders will be less likely to come forward to confess serious sins for fear of being reported," the archbishop added.

"This will deny priests the opportunity to encourage offenders to report themselves to police."

In July, while the legislation was still under consideration, Porteous wrote that "the pope made it clear there can be no exceptions to the inviolability of the seal of confession."

"Priests and all who work for the Church understand their obligations before the law to report on matters of child sexual abuse. Priests, however, cannot comply with law that would require them to violate their commitment to the Church's consistent teaching on the inviolability of the sacramental seal. As Archbishop it is my duty to uphold Catholic teaching on this matter."

"Governments can give all sorts of justifications for wanting to know what has been confessed to a priest, from the most noble (the protection of innocent human life) to the most base (the maintenance of political power)," the archbishop added.

"But the reality is that saints, like St Mateo Correa Magallanes and St John Nepomucene, who gave their life defending the seal of the confessional, knew that no matter what the reason was given by government, no matter how noble their intentions, breaking the seal of the confessional would constitute the end of the sacrament. If one priest was to break it the faithful would lose confidence that what they confess could be made public or used against them."

In his remarks this week, the archbishop emphasized that while priests will not violate the seal of confession, even if they might face jail time, the archdiocese will otherwise comply with the mandatory reporting law.

"The Catholic Church in Tasmania is committed to safeguarding children and the vulnerable. It is continually working to ensure that priests and all who work for the Church understand their obligations before the law to report on matters of child sexual abuse," he said.

"The Catholic Church fully supports the role of police and the courts in bringing perpetrators of abuse to justice."

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