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Republic of Ireland law: Catholic priest prefers prison to revealing confessions

The Government of the Republic of Ireland have revealed plans to introduce legislation that will force priests to disclose details told to them during secret confessions in order to help the police catch child abuse criminals.

But Father Paddy O'Kane, whose diocese covers priests across parts of Donegal, claims that he would rather face a jail sentence than break the Vatican law which says that it is "absolutely illegitimate for the confessor to make the penitent known".

Confessions made to priests are meant to be completely confidential and in many countries, priests are not required by law to divulge any secrets they hear, even if they concern criminal acts. 

Father O'Kane said: "I would certainly be prepared to go to jail over this. I don't think it would come to that but I would go to jail.

"The Republic's Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, says he intends to introduce legislation to force priests to break this seal in the interests of child protection.

"In a criminal matter, a priest may encourage a penitent to surrender to authorities voluntarily. However, this is the most a priest can do. We cannot directly or indirectly disclose the crime to anyone.

"It goes without question that children must be safeguarded at all costs but this very specific priest-penitent privilege is usually respected in law and without it a priest's capacity to fulfil his ministry is inhibited."

Cardinal Sean Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh, is also opposed to the planned legislature. He believes that forcing priests to divulge confessions would be "a challenge to the very basis of a free society".

Mr Shatter said that in the past, by failing to disclose information from confessions the Catholic Church had allowed paedophiles to act with "impunity".

In the UK, the Seal of Confession is not recognised by the law and, in the past, priests who have refused to reveal confessions have been found in contempt of court and faced criminal charges themselves.

Related links:
Read more on the story (The Belfast Telegraph)
Read 'What is contempt of court?' (FindLaw)
Find local specialist solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)