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Monday, 23 September 2019 00:32

Attacking the seal of confession in Australia

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Attacking the seal of confession in Australia Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Laws which mandated breaking the seal of the confessional were enacted in two Australian states last week. In Victoria, the penalty for failing to report child sexual abuse admitted in confession is up to three years imprisonment, while in Tasmania, the maximum penalty is 21 years’ in prison - which is the same penalty in that state for crimes such as rape.

Under the new law police, medical doctors, teachers and early childhood carers are also now required to report suspicions of abuse. And there is a unique feature in the Victorian iteration: victims of institutional abuse can apply to have previous compensation settlements overturned in the Supreme Court.


Daniel Andrews, commandant of the Culture of Death

There is a wry joke among Australians that the state of Victoria should be renamed the Socialist Republik, such are the extreme left-wing policies of its government. Premier Daniel Andrews, for whom mandating that priests violate their vows is only the latest in a string of immoral laws, is a ‘practising Catholic’. Andrews has wrought havoc on his state in the form of assisted suicide, abortion exclusion-zones, shooting-galleries for drug-users, and his extreme gender ideology. Andrews was also health minister in 2008, when his government voted to legalise abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, violating the conscience rights of doctors in the process.

Speaking about his latest breach of morality, Andrews stated that the law is “not made in Rome” and that there are penalties for “anybody and everybody who breaks the Victorian law.” However, Andrews failed to note that there is a higher law in Australia, that of the federal Constitution. Section 116 guarantees the free exercise of religion, and for Catholics, the integrity of the confessional is a fundamental part of the practice of our Faith. The same freedom is guaranteed under international law: under Article 118 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 


A seven-year project

Plans to undermine the seal of confession have been underway in earnest since 2012 when a Victorian government enquiry into institutional sex abuse was launched. This focused on the Salvation Army, the Church of England, and of course, the Catholic Church. However, at that time, the final report recommended that priests’ exemption from mandatory reporting be maintained.

Around the same time, the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse was announced. While this national inquiry ostensibly investigated a whole range of institutions where there was evidence of abuse, it was clear from the start that the Catholic Church was going to be targeted.  Priests were threatened with six months in prison for failing to reveal to the Royal Commission crimes of abuse that had been divulged during confession.

Even non-Catholic commentators recognised the Royal Commission for what it really was: a direct attack on the Church. Paul Kelly, editor of The Australian, called it “the combination of a moral crusade, a cast of victims and coming systemic dismantling of the Catholic Church.”

As Professor Greg Craven, Vice Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, said at the time,  “ … a law to break the seal of the confessional would be a law for the prohibition of Catholic priests and a law for the prohibition of Catholics.”

Victim advocacy group, Broken Rites, said that violating the seal of confession was a “non-issue”, claiming that the real problem was the Church’s failure to ensure that victims were put in contact with police. These secular defenders of abuse victims could plainly see that violating the Church’s freedoms would not help anyone. Despite this, when the recommendations from the Royal Commission were released in 2017, among them was the suggestion that priests should be forced to report any incidences of abuse heard in the confessional. 


Icing on the cake for the Get Pell team

Much has been written about the multi-layered connections that exist between various opponents of Cardinal Pell, from police to lawyers to politicians, and extending perhaps all the way to the Vatican. [Paul Collits and co at Quadrant have done great work exposing this]. It is interesting to note the connection that exists between former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Vivian Waller, the lawyer for Cardinal Pell’s sole accuser. 

Waller, who is a long-time advocate for abolishing the seal of confession, gained entry into her first legal position through Gillard. Gillard, in turn, was selected for her first electoral seat with the help of Waller. Both were members of Emily’s List - the feminist, pro-abortion faction of the Labor party. Gillard went on to become Prime Minister and launched the Royal Commission. Waller went on to establish her own legal firm which specialises in handling child sexual abuse cases. Both have profited professionally from the sexual abuse crisis, are united in their hatred of the Church, and have singled out the sacrament of confession as a bludgeon with which to attack Catholicism. 

Cardinal Pell told journalists at a 2012 press conference that Gillard had phoned him the night before the Royal Commission was announced to give him notice of her decision. During the call, the Prime Minister assured him that this was not going to be a vendetta against the Church. However, that same week, Gillard slammed the Church’s failure to violate the seal, claiming that it “was a sin of omission” and that adults had been “averting their eyes” to the problem of abuse.

Vivian Waller was just as outspoken about the seal of confession, calling it something from the “dark ages” and saying that the abuse of children is not  “some kind of forgivable sin.”

Waller and Gillard succeeded in attacking the Church both at the top, in snaring Cardinal Pell, but also at Her foundations - by intimidating Her priests and faithful, for whom the Sacrament of Confession is the gateway to Her lifeblood, the Holy Eucharist, and is, for most of Her members, necessary to ensure eternal life.


The clergy are standing strong

Australia’s senior clergy are adamant that they will not comply with the new laws. Archbishop of Tasmania, Julian Porteous, said that the bill won’t help vulnerable victims, but rather, would make offenders less likely to present themselves to potentially be advised to approach civil authorities. And Victorian Archbishop, Peter Comensoli, valiantly stated that he would go to jail rather than break the seal. 

Their comments are echoed by members of the clergy throughout Tasmania and Victoria. Parishioners have reported that their priests are stating from the pulpit that they will uphold the integrity of the sacrament. In fact, not one priest, no matter how liberal, has so far publicly stated that he will break the seal. Given that the Church in Australia is a particularly liberal brand of Catholicism, this is a welcome, if not fairly rare display of united adherence to Church doctrine.

In response to news of the laws, the Vatican reiterated its traditional stance: 

“A confessor’s defense of the sacramental seal, if necessary, even to the point of shedding blood … is not only an obligatory act of allegiance to the penitent but is much more: it is a necessary witness – a martyrdom – to the unique and universal saving power of Christ and his church.”

Knowing that historically, priests have been martyred over this matter, and penalised for refusing to violate their obligation even in our times, this united defense from Australian priests is a good sign. For in these days of apathy and apostasy, perhaps it will be through upholding the seal of confession that our priests will provide the witness that Australia’s secular culture so sorely needs to see.

St John Nepomucene, pray for our priests.


This article first appeared on The Remnant.


Kathy Clubb

Founder and Editor of The Freedoms Project

Kathy has been active in pro-life work for 6 years and was involved in a constitutional challenge to Victoria’s exclusion-zone laws. She is the Melbourne co-ordinator for Family Life International and is a member of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. Kathy began writing about pro-life and Catholic issues at Light up the but broadened her range of topics as she came to learn more about the many threats to freedom which are common to all Christians.

Kathy home-educates her youngest 6 children and considers her family to be her most important pro-life work.