Canon is changed on confession

11 July 2014

ISTOCK

CLERGY who hear confessions of serious offences, such as child sexual abuse, may not always be obliged to keep the confession secret after a legislative change made last week by the Australian General Synod. The priest is obliged to keep the matter confidential only if he or she is satisfied that the penitent has already reported the matter to police.

The change to the 1989 canon on confessions, however, comes into force in each diocese only if the diocesan synod adopts it.

A Sydney barrister, Garth Blake, who proposed the change, said that the intention was to protect the safety of members of the Church and the public by ensuring that the rules of the Church did not act as a cloak for serious offenders.

The Archbishop of Melbourne and incoming Primate, Dr Philip Freier, reminded the Synod that the Anglican Church had not always imposed an absolute seal on the confessional: the 1603 Canons state that clergy were obliged to report confessions concerning treason.

In other business, the General Synod also called for greater compassion to be shown to asylum-seekers; urged the Australian government to use independent evidence-based scientific advice when it made decisions about climate change; and chided the government for failing to re-spond to a 2010 report thatfound that poker-machine gambling was second only to illegal drug use as a cause of crime in Aus-tralia.

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