A founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests has said he would he would rather choose to serve time in prison rather than break the seal of confession.
In the wake of the Cloyne report the Irish government stated that priests who fail to report child abuse disclosed to them during confession, to the relevant authorities could face up to five years in prison.
Writing in his Western People column Father Brendan Hoban said that the seal of confession outweighs “any form of professional confidentiality or secrecy.”
“Priests do not just regard it as an absolute duty not to disclose anything that they
learn from penitents in the confessional. They know that if they reveal anything they have learned during confession to anyone, even under a threat of their own death or that of others, that they would be automatically
Canon law states: "Let the priest who dares to make known the sins of his penitent be deposed."
Under the seal priests cannot disclose anything they learn from their penitent. Fr Hoban said the most any priest can do is encourage the person to surrender themselves to authorities.
“We cannot directly or indirectly disclose the matter to anyone, civil authorities or anyone
else,” he states.
He goes to to reference the Alfred Hitchcock film “I confess” in which a killer confesses a murder to a priest. The priest himself is later accused of the murder but cannot convey the truth as it would break the seal of confession.
“It is a measure of the vulnerability of the Catholic Church that part of the package of measures being contemplated by the civil authorities effectively amounts to a rejection of protection in law for what was always regarded as the sacred seal of Confession,” he concludes.
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