Fact sheet

Fact Check: Catholic priest Father Kevin Dillon AM says the rules of confession aren't in the Bible. Is he correct?

Catholic Church Child sexual abuse Privacy

Church and state have clashed over new laws in Victoria and in Tasmania (as well as similar laws being proposed in Queensland) that compel ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse to police. Senior Catholic clergy have said they would sooner go to jail than reveal what they hear during confession, which the church says must remain secret. But others say the confessional rules could be changed so that priests did not have to choose between obeying civil or church law. Father Kevin Dillon, a Catholic priest, claims the rules of confession were "not written in scripture", and were not so much a teaching of Jesus as they were a practice. So, Is the confessional seal not mentioned in the Bible? Fr Dillon's claim is a fair call. Experts consulted by RMIT ABC Fact Check said the Bible did not explicitly refer to confession but, according to Catholic teaching, conferred upon the church the power to set the sacramental rules, including for confession. They said the church's laws demanding confessional secrecy were based on religious interpretation. Catholic confession had not always been private, but current church laws trace back to the year 1215. One expert noted that the Anglican Church, which split from the Catholic Church in the 1500s, had changed its rules to allow abuse to be reported to police.
Verdict: Fair call

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