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Catholic priests unwilling to report sex abuse and other crimes revealed in confession to police

Catholic priests unwilling to report sex abuse and other crimes revealed in confession to police

In Australia, Victoria is conducting a parliamentary investigation of the Catholic church's handling of child sex abuse and is considering whether priests should report crimes admitted to them in the sanctity of the confessional.

Joining  ABC's "News Breakfast" program on July 17, Father Kevin Bourke of Our Lady Help of Christians said that he believes Catholic priests should not have to reveal crimes told to them in confession.  "People feel safe or confident in approaching us that whatever they say, it will stay within the sacredness of that sacrament," he explained. Bourke speculated that every Catholic priest would not comply with an order from the parliament to reveal crimes confessed to them.

When asked whether he would report on a priest who came into the confessional booth confessing of "egregious, horrendous sexual abuse," Bourke said that although it would trouble his conscience, he would not report the confession to authorities. "You'd obviously work it through with them and recommend them to go and acknowledge what they've been up to and seek help and take responsibility for it."

The ABC's interviewer scoffed that this was "taking responsibility."

Bourke, as well as other Catholic priests, would be willing to go to jail to uphold the "sanctity" of the confessional and not report criminal confessions. He admitted, however, that the church is not above the law.


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Earlier, Father Frank Brennan, a human rights lawyer, told ABC that he would not reveal any confessions made in the confessional and would be willing to go to jail over it. If it were not under the confessional, he says that the same rules would apply to him as with any other citizen and he would have to report an admission of sexual abuse to police.

Brennan does not think that Catholic leaders want to hide the sexual abuse issues and thinks that the church is trying to "improve on these issues." Sexual abuse is criminal activity, he said, and spoke with ABC at length about measures that should be taken to address situations where children have suffered from it.

"Confession is a simple case," Brennan said. "I am not at liberty to disclose that to anybody and yes, as a priest, I would agree to going to jail rather than having to disclose what was revealed to me in confession." Church leaders confessing to sex abuse could be reported internally, he thought, through the "Towards Healing Protocol."


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About D. Beeksma

One of the growing crowd of American "nones" herself, Deborah is a prolific writer who finds religion, spirituality and the impact of belief (and non-belief) on culture inspiring, fascinating and at times, disturbing. She hosts the God Discussion show and handles the site's technical work. Her education and background is in business, ecommerce and law.
  • Rob S

    Australia? We don't have enough problems in the U.S. of A, we gotta go looking at Australia?

    • Deborah_B

      We cover things worldwide, and the Catholic church policies definitely affect folks in the USA.

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