Sandhurst Bishop Les Tomlinson backs right to seal of confession

Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst Bishop Les Tomlinson.
Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst Bishop Les Tomlinson.

SANDHURST Bishop Les Tomlinson has defended the sanctity of confession, despite recommendations to prioritise children’s safety from sexual abuse.

The bishop’s comments were prompted by a report by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

One of its 85 recommendations was to enforce failure to report offences for information about child sexual abuse that was disclosed during, or in connection with, religious confession.

“There should be no excuse, protection nor privilege in relation to religious confessions for the failure to report offence,” the report states. 

The writers said they understood the significance of confession. But they said they had heard evidence of confessions relating to child sexual abuse that were not reported to police, and resulted in re-offending.

“The right to practise one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse,” the report stated.

The bishop said the Royal Commission’s recommendations were exactly that – “recommendations to the government, which will then decide upon legislation to be introduced in parliament.”

“Unless, and until there is, legislation concerning the disclosure of comments made under the seal of confession, no direction will be offered to the clergy,” he said in a statement.

The bishop supported his argument by quoting Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, who spoke earlier this week of confession’s sanctity.

“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Bishop Tomlinson quoted.

“It is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognised in the Law of Australia and many other countries. It must remain so here in Australia.

“Outside of this all offences against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so”.