THE Catholic Church will fight any efforts to break the traditional Catholic seal of the confession box, the head of its child-protection agency predicted last night.
Ian Elliott, the CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, said he welcomed the tough new legislative package announced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter in the wake of the publication of the Cloyne Report. But Mr Elliott said he saw no justification for breaking the confessional seal, which is known as sacredotal privilege.
And he insisted that compelling priests to reveal secrets confided in confession by abusers or victims would "antagonise" relationships between church and State.
"The sacrament of penance (confession) is one of the main sacraments in the Catholic Church," he said.
The former head of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said it may not be in the best interests of victims to break their confidence if they reveal in confession that they have been abused.
"Sacredotal privilege is recognised in many legal systems," said Mr Elliott. "To break it would antagonise relationships. In any event, it is unnecessary as there are other ways to ensure compliance."
Legal experts last night warned that the new mandatory-reporting law could create difficulties for the Catholic confessional seal and rite of penance. They also claimed that it could undermine the lawyer-client relationship.
The failure to report cases of child sexual abuse to the gardai was "the central difficulty" identified in the Cloyne Report, which also highlighted the failure to pass on to the authorities soft and hard information about known or suspected abusers.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald will today launch the revised Children First national guidelines, which will be placed on a statutory basis.
Failure to comply with aspects of Children First will also give rise to a range of civil and criminal sanctions.
Geoffrey Shannon, the Government's child-protection adviser said: "Monitoring implementation of the Children First guidelines will be key to ensuring that they are uniformly and consistently adhered to."