Breaking the seal of confession for South Australian priests

first_imgAs of 1 October, South Australia will become the first state in Australia in which priests will be required by law to report any cases of child sex abuse admitted through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Confession).The new child protection laws were legislated last year and announced last week ahead of the SA Government releasing its full response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.According to the state’s Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who made the announcement, the newly elected South Australian Government will proceed with removing the current exemption for all priests who, in the future, will be required to report cases of child sex abuse crimes and any relevant information obtained during the Sacrament of Confession.“Unless you have a unified approach to this, predators will travel, that is the reality. They’ll find sanctuary in areas where they can’t be caught, and it is important that there be a disclosure obligation on all fronts and you don’t leave some frontier of sanctuary for those who are going to predate,” Ms Chapman said.As reported by ABC News, the South Australian Catholic Church says it has been ‘blindsided’ and was unaware of the forthcoming changes.Its leaders have denounced the ruling, saying they are not prepared to break the seal of confession, even though not obeying the new rule could lead to a maximum $10,000 fine.Acting Archbishop of Adelaide, Bishop Greg O’Kelly, said the new law “has much wider implications for the Catholic Church and the practice of our faith,” taking into account that Catholic priests are bound by the seal of the confessional to not reveal what they are told, or face automatic excommunication.Father Michael Whelan, a parish priest at St Patrick’s Church Hill in Sydney, told the ABC that he was “willing to go to jail” rather than abide by the law, and suggested that priests would not break the seal of confession.There are consequences to the confessing priests if they choose to divulge information that has been relayed to them in the Sacrament of Confession.Nevertheless, the SA Government intends to also remove statutory time limits that prevent victims from suing the institutions where they were abused.“In essence, at the moment, when a child turns 21, they can’t make a claim after that age – that is three years after they’re 18. We want to remove that for all child sex abuse victims,” Ms Chapman said.“How the Catholic Church decides to act is completely up to them. They [Catholic priests] are subject to different regulations to that of the Orthodox Church and the public needs to know that the way confession is done differs between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic tradition,” said Greek Orthodox priest Michael Psaromatis.“I would welcome, and be obedient to, whatever the Orthodox Church decides on the matter.“There are consequences to the confessing priests if they choose to divulge information that has been relayed to them in the Sacrament of Confession,” said Father Psaromatis, who believes that the new law has been devised without appropriate dialogue and collaboration with the Orthodox Church, which has a distinctly different model of confession than the other Christian denominations.“The Orthodox Church sees confession as a means of attaining forgiveness through reconciliation with Christ; a process which is about healing and rehabilitation.”Although the Orthodox Church claims to have sound pastoral care in how it handles confession, an Orthodox priest is not permitted to absolve a penitent in cases of murder, rape, pedophilia, or any other serious crime, unless the person agrees to turn themselves into the police first, and only after they have done so.“An essential element in Orthodox confession for any person who is truly sorry for their sins, is their willingness to accept the judicial consequences of their actions,” Father Psaromatis said.“I believe there is merit in maintaining the seal of confession within the Orthodox Church context because it offers opportunities of healing to the victims and rehabilitation to the perpetrators, which should be seen (from a secular viewpoint) as complimentary to the rehabilitative and protective measures the state offers.”Father Psaromatis said the Orthodox Church emphasises that repentance can be a long-term process where the confessor priest will continue to prompt (duty of care) the transgressor for a full disclosure of their transgressions in order to bring the transgressor to full repentance.“In other words, sins are not simply listed and a penance given according to each sin as if it were readily available in some sin/penance directory. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia is subject to mandatory reporting laws and is steadfast in its commitment to child protection, but this law will have wider implications for the already diminishing practice of the Sacrament of Confession within the Orthodox Church because it can set a precedence for other future laws which might further undermine and destabilise the integrity of the canon law of the Church, which aims to upkeep and maintain the practice of the Orthodox faith.“Therefore, people might be deterred from coming to confession whether it is for child sex crimes or not.“It’s about time that the Orthodox Church is understood within its Eastern context and not perceived through the lens of Western Christianity,” Father Psaromatis said.According to the Attorney-General, the SA Government was responsible for 104 of the total 189 recommendations made by the Royal Commission.Of the 104, 66 were accepted, one rejected and a further 37 considered.“It’s critical that the terrible legacy of child sexual abuse is addressed with a comprehensive suite of policies at both the federal and state level,” said Ms Chapman said who urges other states to follow South Australia and make children’s safety a priority. 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