The Australian Catholic Church has dismissed calls for priests to be compelled to report child abuse revealed in confessionals.
The Church said Friday it would accept “98%” of recommendations made by a high-level government inquiry into child sexual abuse, which uncovered shocking accounts of widespread abuse inside Australian religious institutions.
However, church leaders said that they would maintain the sanctity of confession, arguing to remove it would infringe on religious liberties.
“The only recommendation we can’t accept is removing the seal of confession,” Sister Monica Cavanagh, president of Catholic Religious Australia said at a press conference.
The Church’s decision to reject the recommendation remains a huge stumbling block for the institution to regain the trust of the public, which has been riven by child abuse scandals in Australia and abroad.
The calls comes amid a tumultuous week for the Catholic Church as pressure builds on Pope Francis to ensure abusers within the church are held to account.
Addressing crowds in Dublin, Ireland last weekend, the Pontiff spoke of his shame over the “appalling crimes” committed in recent decades and called for forgiveness from those who had suffered.
In Australia alone, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard testimony from more than 8,000 people, who gave evidence in private sessions, over a period of five years.
During the inquiry it emerged that 7% of priests in Australia had been accused of abusing children, including over 40% of brothers in some orders.
Also, a total of 2,559 referrals were made to authorities, including the police, as a result of the $383 million (AU$500 million) probe.
The final report delivered in December included 189 new recommendations to address a “serious failure” by Australian institutions to protect children, including 20 for the Catholic Church alone.
While the church said it had accepted almost all of the recommendations, it added that a large number would be only be put into effect pending approval from the Vatican. That includes one recommendation to consider voluntary celibacy for priests.
“A great many of these recommendation it has said that it accepts in principle but subject to it doing more work or research … It’s not as rosy as the Church has tried to paint it, but as I said I remain cautiously optimistic that we are certainly in a more child safe environment,” Child abuse survivor Peter Gogarty told local media.