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Priests and Ministers of Religion in South Australia will be required to report child abuse confessed to them under new laws that come into effect in October.
The Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 has replaced the Children’s Protection Act 1993. The Attorney General’s Department has claimed that these changes will “better protect children from potential harm, and align with the recommendations of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.”
These new laws represent a disturbing phenomenon. Namely, the use of a highly emotive issue as a means for undermining the rights and freedoms of others. This law, and others around Australia (the ACT Parliament has passed similar laws with almost universal support), blatantly violates both religious liberty and the right to privacy.
Confession is one of the most important aspects of the Catholic Faith. Comprising one of the seven sacraments (the others being Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, the anointing of the sick, and Holy Orders), Catholics believe that an individual who confesses his sins is speaking directly with God. Whatever is confessed remains between that individual and God.
The privacy of the Confessional is known as “the Seal.” The Vatican has had strict rules on the privacy of the confessional since 1215 and Priests are bound by a sacred vow not to break the seal. A Priest who breaks the seal, even after the penitent has died, faces excommunication.
Some critics have accused the supporters of these new laws of undermining religious liberty and of targeting the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, criticised the law, say: “The Government threatens religion freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement on the safety of children.”
Some priests have even claimed that they would rather go to prison than break the seal of the confessional.
At some point, people are going to have to realise that children are not the centre of the universe. They are going to have realise that their safety is not so important that it trumps the rights and freedoms of everybody else. The laws passed by the Parliament of South Australia are an absolute violation of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Countries like Australia have had a great tradition of separating politics from religion. Now it seems that this distinction only goes one way. It is seen as totally unacceptable for the Church to use its power and influence to affect politics, but for some reason it is seen as perfectly acceptable for the state to interfere in religion.
One cannot help but cynically suspect that politicians in South Australia are using children as a backdoor method for allowing the all-seeing eye of the state into relationships that were once deemed absolutely private. That which is confessed to a Priest ought to remain absolutely private. The contents of my conscience (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are none of the state’s business.
Those who support this blatant attack on the rights and liberties of others should ask themselves what their opinion would be if the law violated their private relationship with their doctor, lawyer, or psychiatrist.
Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, established His Church with a definitive structure. It is the duty of every Catholic to understand this hierarchy and how it helps Christ’s Church lead the faithful at both the local and overall level.
The most basic level of the Church is the local parish. This is where practising Catholics are baptised and confirmed, get married and have their funerals, attend weekly mass and receive the sacraments. Often the parish is named after Christ himself (Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart), the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Good Counsel), or a Saint.
After the parish, there is the diocese: an amalgamation of parishes controlled by a local Bishop. The Bishop of the diocese is seen as an authentic successor to the apostles and is not just an ambassador to the Pope. Following from the diocese is the archdiocese controlled by an Archbishop, and finally, the Catholic Church headed by Saint Peter’s successor, the Pope.
The order of precedence for the Catholic Church can be found here.