The Archbishop of Melbourne admitted that he would not report sexual abuse of children if it was revealed to him in confession, despite knowing it could mean jail time.
Denis Hart, the Archbishop of Melbourne and President of the Australian Bishops Conference, has called for the confessional seal to be protected by law. Hart’s defense of confessional sanctity is in response to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse said that there should be “no excuse, protection, or privilege” for clergy who did not alert authorities of the sexual abuse of children.
The commission recommended that priests face criminal charges when they failed to report information heard during confession. In total the commission recommended 85 changes to the criminal justice system in Australia when they submitted their report earlier this month. In discussing their recommendation, the commission wrote, “we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators. We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behavior in order to deal with their own guilt.”
Denis Hart disagreed, and in a statement he said, “Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest. It 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.”
In an interview with ABC Radio Melbourne, Hart was asked if he would rather go to prison than break the seal of confession, and Hart replied, “I’ve said I would.” Hart went on to say that he would follow the law outside of matters related to confessional, but that with regards to confession, his duty was to God.
And then in a piece he wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, Father Frank Brennan tried to argue that requiring the clergy to report abuse allegations by law would make children less safe. His reasoning? Well, he argued that it “may take away the one possibility that a sex offender will repent and turn himself in.” Riiiiigt, sure thing, Frank.
Once again we see prominent members of the Catholic Church unable to break away from the disgusting tradition of protecting adults who sexually abuse children. From Pope Francis, to Hart’s colleagues in Australia, to the many examples abroad, the Catholic Church has apparently chosen this hill to die on. Unnecessary traditions, the safety of their priests, and the false air of having the moral high ground all supersede the safety of innocent children. It truly is disgusting and I do not know how these people can live with themselves when they protect, or outright collaborate in the rape of children. I hope that the laws in Australia will be amended to align with the findings of the commission and future children can be saved from this kind of abuse.