No duty to report priests’ confessions of child abuse, official says
Wednesday, 2:00 a.m. 'Matters of conscience' protected
CORNWALL, Ont. — The duty to report allegations of child abuse toauthorities does not apply to priests hearing confessions from otherChristian brothers regarding such abuse, an inquiry heard Tuesday.
Rev. Frank Morrisey, an Ottawa-based priestand canon lawyer, said anything heard inside the confessional isprotected and not subject to the same rules as allegations heard on theoutside.
“Even if the person making the confessionreleases the priest from the obligation of confession, the priestcannot breach that confidentiality,” Morrisey told the inquiry probingthe institutional response to allegations of systemic sexual abuse inthe Cornwall area. “It’s necessary in order to protect that level ofconscience.”
Where the church is concerned there is noduty to report, Morrisey told Peter Engelmann, the lead commissioncounsel.Individuals considered to be in positions of authority, be it teachers,doctors or other professionals such as clergy, are required to reportany suspicions regarding the abuse of children to the Children’s AidSociety.
Morrisey also told the inquiry there aremany policies involving the protection of information heard in theconfessional regarding allegations of priests having committed anynumber of crimes, including sexual abuse of minors.
“These are matters of conscience protected through confession,” saidMorrisey. “But I would also say there could be a fear of scandal, ofthings getting out. That’s possible, too.”
In June 1992, an ad hoc committee of theCanadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a report on childsexual abuse by members of clergy called “From Pain to Hope.”
In 2002, another committee was formed toreview how the report was received, both by members of the clergy andchurch communities.
Survivors of abuse who participated in the review maintained a perception bishops are not accountable to anyone.
Theysuggested the church is organized to promote “a culture of secrecy, alack of communication with victims and a need to resort to courts toensure the bishop would answer for his decisions and management.”
On Tuesday, Morrisey said it’s true bishopsare under no obligation to follow the recommendations outlined in thereport, although he said it wouldn’t be wise for dioceses not to havesome sort of policy in place to deal with abuse allegations.
“If they have policies in place, they’dbetter follow them,” said Morrisey. “They’d be in trouble if theydidn’t, especially for insurance purposes.”
During cross-examination, a lawyerrepresenting a group of citizens at the inquiry suggested policies areirrelevant if they are ignored by those in authority.
“A protocol is only as good as the peoplewho are implementing it,” said Peter Wardle, an attorney for theCitizens for Community Renewal.
The inquiry resumes today.
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