A NEW law aiming to force priests to break the seal of the confessional in reporting child sex abuse would have a counter-productive effect in as much as it would dissuade people from confessing any wrongdoing in this area at all, a Kerry parish priest has warned.
Parish Priest of St Brendan's Church in Tralee, Fr Pádraig Walsh, said that the Church now reports all complaints it receives outside of the confessional to the authorities immediately.
However, he said that the seal of the confessional is vital to the ministry of the Church in providing pastoral care for all its members. Any attempt to force the hand of the clergy on it in one area would have a devastating knock-on effect for the work of the Catholic Church, he said.
"Firstly, we take all complaints of abuse very seriously and report them to the authorities immediately," Fr Walsh said.
"In terms of the new legislation that is proposed, it is very unusual, practically speaking. I don't know how often instances of people confessing to having been abused or having abused occur, but I imagine it would be rare.
"Nonetheless, the key thing for a priest would be to try to keep the conversation going outside of the confessional in order to report it to the authorities. However, if the seal of the confessional is undermined in this area I think it would lead to a very slippery slope that might not end at child abuse but would see all major crimes being exempted legally from the seal."
The seal is an absolute for the clergy requiring them to never disclose any information gleaned inside of the confessional. Fr Walsh compared it to the journalistic equivalent of protecting sources.
"Ultimately, I think the legislation is a bit of a red herring moving the debate away from other areas. An important question to ask however is, if the seal of the confessional was undermined, would anyone confess to such incidents at all? I think the new legislation would be very counter-productive ultimately and I can't see it happening."
Fr Walsh said that most of his fellow clergy in Kerry share his opinions on the matter.