Irish Catholic priests have said that they will not reveal secrets given in confession even though new legislation by the Irish government will call for it.

The new legislation will be introduced after another child abuse scandal in Cloyne, a Cork diocese came to light. As late as 2008, clerics accused of child abuse were being protected by the diocese the Murphy Inquiry found.

The Irish government has now stated that a zero tolerance law will come into effect. However, the group that represents Ireland's Catholic priests says the secrecy of the confession box must be retained.

This directly contradicts new Irish government legislation which will state that the confessional is not beyond the law.

"The point is, if there is a law in the land, it has to be followed by everybody. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions," said Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Father P.J. Madden, spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests, however, insisted that the sacramental seal of confession is "above and beyond all else."

"If I'm breaking the law then somebody has to find a way to address that for me ... but in my own right as a priest what I understand is the seal of confession is above and beyond all else," he said.

"The seal of confession is a very sacred seal for lots of different reasons way beyond this one single issue, however serious this one single issue is," Father Madden insisted.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said on July 14 that canon law can not supersede state law.

Minister Fitzgerald said the government was firm on this point.

"This is about the law of the land. It's about child protection. Are we saying ... if a child is at risk of child sexual abuse that should not be reported? We cannot say that. The law of the land is clear and unambiguous," she said.

Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore told the Catholic News Service that the it was "unreal to suggest that the seal of confession has prevented the reporting of the abuse of children."

David Quinn, director of the think-tank the Iona Institute, said the government proposal was "unprecedented."

"This would make us the one and only country in the Western world to have such a law. Even revolutionary France in the days of its worst violence against the church did not pass a law requiring the breaking of the seal of confession," Quinn told the Catholic News Service.

He said the government "is clearly missing something that every other government can see, which is that, at a minimum, such a law is very unlikely to lead to a single conviction and, at a maximum, will be counterproductive and will make society less safe, rather than more safe."

"No child abuser will go to a priest in confession knowing the priest is required to inform the police. But cutting off the avenue of confession to a child abuser makes it less likely that he will talk to someone who can persuade him to take the next step," he stated.


Irish Priests face five years in jail if they fail to report child abuse