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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Priests would rather die than break sacramental seal of confession, Cardinal Nichols tells abuse inquiry


The Catholic bishops would reject any attempts to compel “mandatory reporting” of child abuse admissions in confessionals, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said.

The Archbishop of Westminster said the sacramental seal was sacred and that he would defend it.

He told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse that priests have died defending the seal and would probably be willing to do so again.

“I think the seal of confession is an essential part of the exercise of priesthood as a nexus between my sinful humanity and the mercy of God, and I would defend the seal of confession absolutely,” he said.

“The history of the Catholic Church has a number of people who’ve been put to death in defence of the seal of confession. It might come to that.

“But the seal of confession is of a sacred nature and it’s at the heart of the priest ministry acting in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Brian Altman QC, the barrister for the inquiry, asked the Cardinal how a recommendation for mandatory reporting might be received by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“It would not be well received,” replied Cardinal Nichols. “It would be rejected.”

Mandatory reporting, he said, would “put every priest in this country in a position of great liability, because a priest would not be able to defend himself if somebody went forward and said, ‘I told Fr X that I’m an abuser’”.

“Anybody could do that and no priest could defend himself,” he continued. “Therefore, I hope you consider very carefully this matter.”

Any priest who breaks the seal of confession incurs a penalty of automatic excommunication under canon 1388 of the Code of Canon Law.

Among those considered as martyrs for the seal of confession is St John Sarkander, a Polish priest who was canonised by Pope St John Paul II in 1995.