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
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.