Priests not duty-bound to divulge content of confessions: lawyer
Local News - Wednesday, August 29, 2007 @ 08:00
The duty to report allegations of child abuse to authorities does notapply to priests hearing confessions from other Christian brothersregarding such abuse, the Cornwall Public Inquiry heard Tuesday.
Rev. Frank Morrisey, an Ottawa-based priest and canonlawyer, said anything heard inside the confessional is protected andnot subject to the same rules as allegations heard on the outside.
"Even if the person making the confession releases thepriest from the obligation of confession, the priest cannot breach thatconfidentiality," said Morrisey. "It's necessary in order to protectthat level of conscience."
"So, there is no duty to report?" asked Peter Engelmann, lead commission counsel.
"No," said Morrisey. "Not where the church is concerned."
Individuals considered to be in positions of authority, be itteachers, doctors or other professionals such as clergy, are requiredto report any suspicions regarding the abuse of children to theChildren's Aid Society.
Morrisey also told the inquiry there are many policiesinvolving the protection of information heard in the confessionalregarding allegations of priests having committed any number of crimes,including sexual abuse of minors.
"Why the secrecy?" asked Engelmann.
"Again, these are matters of conscience protected throughconfession," said Morrisey. "But I would also say there could be a fearof scandal, of things getting out.
"That's possible, too."
In June 1992, an ad hoc committee of the Canadian Conferenceof Catholic Bishops released a report on child sexual abuse by membersof clergy called From Pain to Hope. In 2002, another committee wasformed to review how the report was received, both by members of theclergy and church communities.
Survivors of abuse who participated in the review maintaineda perception bishops are not accountable to anyone. They suggested thechurch is organized to promote "a culture of secrecy, a lack ofcommunication with victims and a need to resort to courts to ensure thebishop would answer for his decisions and management."
On Tuesday, Morrisey said it's true bishops are under noobligation to follow the recommendations outlined in From Pain to Hope,although he said it wouldn't be wise for dioceses not to have some sortof policy in place to deal with abuse allegations.
"If they have policies in place, they'd better follow them,"said Morrisey. "They'd be in trouble if they didn't, especially forinsurance purposes."
Members of clergy who participated in the review suggestedwhile most dioceses adhere to either the recommendations included inFrom Pain to Hope or at the very least put other similar policies inplace, there are a few dioceses where there is still work to be done.
"A small number remain extremely reluctant either to adoptthese preventative measures or to disclose those that are available,"the reviewers wrote. "This culture of secrecy creates an atmosphere ofdoubt that, to say the least, gives the impression that these diocesesprefer to protect the institution and the clergy to the detriment ofprotecting the public and children.
"Although these are a few isolated cases, the attitude ofone diocese or one bishop has repercussions on the entire (church.)"
During cross-examination, a lawyer representing a group ofcitizens at the inquiry suggested policies are irrelevant if they areignored by those in authority.
"A protocol is only as good as the people who areimplementing it," said Peter Wardle, an attorney for the Citizens forCommunity Renewal.
The inquiry resumes today at 9:30 a.m.
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