An archaic Irish law may allow priests to stay silent on allegations of sex abuse that are disclosed to them outside of confessions, it has emerged.
New legislation published in Ireland will make it a crime for clergymen to fail to report allegations of child abuse that are disclosed to them. The primary purpose of the ‘Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons Bill’ is to close an existing loophole in the law, however, it does not remove an exemption given to priests during a court ruling in 1945.
During the High Court case of Cook v Carroll, it was ruled that priests enjoy “sacerdotal privilege”, which gives them the right to “refuse to divulge any confidential communication whatever made to him as a priest.” As a result, any disclosures made to a priest fall into this category.
Emily Logan, The Children’s Ombudsman, has recommended that the legislation be updated to include clauses which will remove sacerdotal privilege.
“While it is for the Attorney General to advise on the constitutionality of any proposed legislation, this Office does not believe that it would be unconstitutional for the legislation to be extended to the confessional and this Office recommends that it be so extended,” Logan told Journal.ie.
“In any event, it should be clarified that sacerdotal privilege in respect of communications outside the confessional cannot give rise to a reasonable excuse.”