SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) — Australia’s Catholic bishops and religious orders, responding to recommendations from the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, accepted 98 percent of its suggestions, but said they could not accept recommendations that would violate the seal of confession.

“We are committed to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people while maintaining the seal. We do not see safeguarding and the seal as mutually exclusive,” said the preamble to a 57-response to dozens of recommendations concerning child safety, formation of priest and religious workers, ongoing training in child safety and even out-of-home care service providers.

The response, published Aug. 31, came eight-and-a-half months after the Royal Commission released its 17-volume report on child sexual abuse. The report was based on five years of hearings, nearly 26,000 emails, and more than 42,000 phone calls from concerned Australians. In February 2017, Australian church leaders spent three weeks testifying before the commission.

The Royal Commission recommended that the bishops consult with the Holy See to clarify whether “information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they have been sexually abused is covered by the seal of confession” and whether “if a person confesses during the sacrament of reconciliation to perpetrating child sexual abuse, absolution can and should be withheld until they report themselves to civil authorities.”

The commission also recommended that confession “only be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult.”

The response from the bishops and religious said dioceses would examine confessional spaces and practices. It said confessions of groups of children were normally conducted in the open and that the Catholic Professional Standards Limited it had established was developing standards and protocols.

“However, the ‘seal of confession’ is inviolable for the priest confessor,” it said.

“Children will be less rather than more safe if mandatory reporting of confessions were required: the rare instance where a perpetrator or victim might have raised this in confession would be less likely to occur if confidence in the sacramental seal were undermined; and so an opportunity would be lost to encourage a perpetrator to self-report to civil authorities or victims to seek safety,” said the response.

“Mandatory reporting of confessions would also be a violation of freedom of religious belief and worship,” it added.

The bishops and religious noted that they had marked a few recommendations “For further consideration,” and about a dozen that mentioned the Holy See had been noted to the Vatican. In October, leaders of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the chair of the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council met with Vatican officials to discuss issues emerging from the royal commission investigations.

For instance, the Royal Commission said the bishops should urge the Vatican to change canon law so that “the pontifical secret” — the confidentiality surrounding a canonical investigation and process — “does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse.” The response said the bishops had sought canonical advice and consulted with the Holy See, but noted that the pontifical secret “does not in any way inhibit a bishop or religious leader from reporting instances of child sexual abuse to civil authorities.”

The Royal Commission asked that the bishops urge the Vatican to eliminate the “imputability test” of canon law when dealing with cases of clerical sexual abuse; the imputability test basically means that a person’s level of guilt for a crime is lessened to the degree that he or she was not aware that the action was wrong; if the imputability is diminished, canon law would recommend a lesser penalty for the guilty.

In response to a recommendation that the bishops work with the Vatican to amend canon law to remove the time limit for commencement of canonical actions relating to child sexual abuse, the bishops said this was already the practice in Australia. According to rules issued in 2003, the statute of limitation is 20 years after the victim reaches the age of 18; however, church law also says that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can set aside that limit.

Several recommendations from the royal commission concerned celibacy — the promise not to marry. The response said the bishops noted “that the Royal Commission made no finding of a causal connection between celibacy and child sexual abuse; that voluntary celibacy is a long-established and positive practice of the church in both East and West, particularly for bishops and religious life; and that inadequate initial and continuing formation of priests and religious for celibate living may have contributed to a heightened risk of child sexual abuse, but not celibacy as a state of life in and of itself.”

In March, Pope Francis authorized an Australian plenary council, a meeting in which decisions become binding on the church in the country. The bishops said it was time to look at where the church in Australia was headed.


  1. The culture of ‘Catholic’ has taken a hammering over the years following Vatican II, questioned by some, affirmed by others.
    But if there is one crystal clear point that is missed: It is that it has moved away from its strengths. Modernism is in part an influence but that is not an excuse for failures.
    Once Lent was accompanied by significant fasting, as was abstinence from both solids and liquids before mass on a Sunday. Since then pilgrims to Medjugorje (40 million and counting) now know a new request to fast twice a week, throughout the year. What does this turnaround mean? What implications has it for clergy? And over 500 priests received vocations following Medjugorje influence, not to mention other religious orders. The really nice thing is that some of those priests will become bishops.
    Of course, Medjugorje has not concluded so no definitive pronouncements are possible (Fr G. Jordan SJ), but the contrast is very obvious.
    Accompanied by this relaxing of asceticism and the rise of hedonism is the slow deterioration of shame in the west- the result of modern Television. The ability to turn off the TV and instead pray or converse with other members of the household is a challenge of every day.
    Coping with the problem of Secular Humanism means consistent listening skills-, beginning early in the morning, and regular consequent prayerfulness.
    The church in Australia has been forging ahead in propaganda. But is this the answer? Surely witness is a vital aspect of its integrity. Selling is no substitute for witness.
    One Catholic principal’s wife revealed to me on Pentecost Sunday that she was not aware that there were over a hundred miracles of the Eucharist on the internet. How many other Catholic Principals wives are equally uninformed? Not to mention their husbands, yet these are Catholic educators.
    Various documented accounts of miracles of the Eucharist authenticated are available [Bob and Penny Lord].
    What material is available to the faithful, particularly children in the arena of mystical works, such as St Teresa of Avila/ Liseaux. St John of the Cross, St Elizabeth of the Trinity? Are these topics for the pulpit?
    Are saints writings valued- such as Saint Alphonsus Liguori?
    Harry Potter got loads of attention, but does Maria Carloni? How many bishops/ priests know about Maria Carloni?
    FOUR Popes certainly did.
    Numerous “ordinary Catholics” read Catholic literature, get tertiary degrees (including PhD.’s in religious arenas- not normally awarded at seminaries), and do extraordinary volunteer work, without any prompts from clergy.