British priests should be compelled to break the Seal of the Confessional in cases of child abuse, a lawyer has told a national inquiry.
Solicitor David Enright, representing former pupils at a Comboni missionary school, said it was a problem that “matters revealed in Confession, including child abuse, cannot be used in governance”.
“One can’t think of a more serious obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic Church to achieving child protection.”
He added: “The Catholic Church is so opaque, so disparate, so full of separate bodies who are not subject to any authority that it is difficult to see how reform can be made to provide good governance and introduce acceptable standards of child protection.”
Enright was speaking at the opening of a three-week hearing into abuse at English Benedictine schools.
His recommendation echoes a suggestion heard in August by Australia’s royal commission on child abuse, which prompted Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne to say he would go to jail rather than violate the Seal.
The Catechism says the seal of Confession is “inviolable” and any priest who violates it incurs automatic excommunication.
The hearing into two English Benedictine independent schools, Ampleforth and Downside, is the latest segment of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – thought to be the biggest public inquiry ever established in England and Wales.
Lawyers representing the Benedictines expressed regret for past abuse. Kate Gallafent QC, for the English Benedictine Congregation, said there had been “intense sadness at the anguish caused to so many people”. Matthias Kelly QC, speaking for Ampleforth, said: “We wish to apologise for the hurt, distress and damage done to those who suffered abuse when in our care. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is no repetition.”