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New row between Church and State over ‘privileged’ confessions

Frances Fitzgerald says the ‘privilege’ of confession will not exempt a priest from new duties reporting child abuse.

Frances Fitzgerald has insisted that there will be no exemption for priests in new laws which make it an offence not to report a crime.
Frances Fitzgerald has insisted that there will be no exemption for priests in new laws which make it an offence not to report a crime.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE CHILDREN’S MINISTER Frances Fitzgerald has insisted that priests who are given admissions of child abuse during the sacrament of confession will not be exempt from new rules on mandatory reporting.

Launching the Children First guidelines on child protection yesterday, Fitzgerald said legislation currently being passed through the Oireachtas – which will make it an offence not to report a crime – will not give an exemption to confession.

The Irish Examiner’s Juno McEnroe reported Fitzgerald as bluntly saying the existing ‘privilege’, under which evidence given in confession is not considered admissible, would not be retained under the new laws.

“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,” the Catholic News Service quoted her as saying.

The insistence has met with dismay by the Church, with priests’ groups saying they would rather encourage a guilty party to report their own crime than be forced to do so themselves.

Fr PJ Madden, a spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests, said: “In my own right as a priest, what I understand is [that] the seal of confession is above and beyond all else.”

Madden said the seal was “very sacred… for lots of different reasons way beyond this one single issue.”

Conservative commentator David Quinn of the Iona Institute also told the Catholic News Service that the proposal was “unprecedented” and would ultimately make society “less safe”.

The matter of privilege confessions has become a hot topic in the aftermath of the publication of the Cloyne report, which found that Gardaí were not informed of some cases of clerical sexual abuse in the Cork diocese.

Poll: Should priests be exempted from mandatory crime reporting?

More: Government ‘won’t rest’ until Vatican responds to Cloyne Report >

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