Laws requiring priests to break the Seal of Confession have shocked the Church

“This week we have seen the full array of politicians – Green, Labor, Liberal and independent – lining up to dismantle the Catholic Church’s institution of sealed Confession.” So wrote the journalist Waleed Aly in November 2012, when several prominent figures voiced support for mandatory reporting of abuse.

And it seems he was in some way prophetic. Earlier this month politicians assembled in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to pass a law requiring priests to break the seal of Confession in the case of reporting child sex abuse.

The uniting of the politicians was one thing, but it was the unanimous and swift response of the Catholic clergy – from the president of the bishops’ conference to the local parish priest – that soon resounded in pulpits and newspapers across the country.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulburn published a piece in the Canberra Times the next day. “The government threatens religious freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the Sacrament of Confession while delivering no improvement in the safety of children,” he wrote. “The proposed law would put the ACT out of step with other jurisdictions.”

However, it was then discovered that the law puts the ACT in step with South Australia, which passed a similar law last year. Bishop Greg O’Kelly, apostolic administrator of Adelaide, said he was “blindsided” by the decision. “There was no reference or no communication beforehand, neither at the level of the bishop or with the child protection unit,” he said.

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