Australia: Bishops to ask "Pope" If seal of confession can be broken to Protect children from sexual abuse
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said for a priest to repeat anything that has occurred during confession would be a very serious breach of trust and the sacrament.
Archbishop Fisher said he could not withhold absolution from someone who confessed to abusing a child and if they were genuinely contrite would forgive their sin, as he would a terrorist or a murderer.
'What I can't do is effectively bug the confessional on behalf of the state to use it to a way of reporting crimes retrospective or prospective,' he told the child sex abuse royal commission.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said two paedophiles confessed to each other and felt able to then move on and continue to offend.
'Outsiders to the church would see that as a blatant abuse of the process,' he told the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide archbishops.
The commission's 15th and final hearing into the Catholic Church, which ended on Friday, included debate about whether the seal effectively protects everything said in the confessional, including if a child reveals they are being abused.
Commissioner Andrew Murray challenged the five metropolitan archbishops on whether they had the courage and fortitude to take the matter to the Pope and push for changes to canon law and general instructions to bishops and priests.
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said Australia's bishops would take the confession questions and other matters raised by the royal commission to the Holy See after their plenary meeting in May.
'There's no reason why we, the bishops of Australia, can't get together and prepare material about this with these questions that have been raised and actually send a delegation ... to Rome to see the Pope,' he said.
'The crucial thing would be to go to Pope Francis and just explain our dilemma to him and I'm sure that in the spirit of his ministry, he would get something done about it quickly.'
The Australian church is setting up a new professional standards body to ensure child protection standards are set.
It will name and shame those who don't comply but the commission has also heard the board members have broad powers not to disclose audits.
Archbishop Fisher indicated the powers will be narrowed.
'Clearly what we don't want is any risk of returning to the era of cover-ups and excuses and avoiding scrutiny.'