The Irish government has backed down on plans to force priests to reveal details of child sex abuse cases heard in the confessional box.
Ireland’s Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has confirmed that forthcoming legislation will make no reference to confession.
Shatter and fellow Minister Mary Fitzgerald had indicated in July that the new legislation would force priests to reveal any information heard in confession.
The Vatican even responded to the claims by the government and vowed to fight any plans to force priests to break the silence of the confessional box.
Now, after an amazing u-turn, Minister Shatter has declared the controversy as an ‘entirely bogus issue’.
Speaking to reporters at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Galway, Minister Shatter said he did not anticipate any reference to the confessional in the new legislation.
The new bill will make it a criminal offence to withhold information relating to sexual abuse or other serious offences against a child or vulnerable adult.
In July, Shatter and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald informed reporters that there would beno exceptions to the rule including information given to priests in confession.
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Minister Shatter has now changed his opinion on the bill according to his latest quotes.
He said: “This is an entirely bogus issue. The focus of the Bill, the heads of which were published at the end of July, is to ensure that where there are what we describe as arrestable crimes, which include child sexual abuse committed against a child, and where an individual has material information that would assist the police in the investigation of that crime, that they provide it to the police, unless there is a reasonable excuse not to do so.”
The Justice Minister again insisted that the government’s only duty is to protect children. He told reporters that the context of the legislation is to ensure that those who know children are being abused inform police, that abusers are brought to justice and that other children are protected.
“The central focus of this Government and my colleague Frances Fitzgerald and myself is child welfare and child protection,” said Shatter.
“And this [Confession] is an entire divergence from the central focus of what we’re seeking to address, and I think it would be helpful if those who are focusing on that issue focused to a far greater extent on the protection of children.”
Minister for Children Fitzgerald expects to present the wording on a new children’s rights bill in the near future.
“I expect to see substantial progress in the next few weeks,” said Minister Fitzgerald.
“We will then be looking at the wording and the Cabinet will decide on a date. At the moment we don’t have a date, but it remains a high priority for the Government once we have a wording agreed.
“There have been some difficulties with the wordings which had been in the public arena and the Government wants to get it right.
“There have been some difficulties with those. But we are committed to wording along the lines originally proposed by the all-party constitutional committee on children.”