Australian confession law and latae sententiae excommunication


I was under the impression that the priest could/ would be latae sententiae excommunicated for breaking the confessional seal. I could be wrong about this.

How does the Australian law, whereby priests must break the seal for serious crimes, deal with this? Will the priest still incur excommunication?


It doesn’t deal with it. The priest would incur excommunication.


It’s an odd notion for people who have grown up in modern democracies, but Church law does trump secular civil law.

Normally, Catholics are obliged to obey civil law. If civil law and divine / Church law clash, it is sinful to obey civil law.


Is there such a law?


It is being proposed in Australia.


So a priest could go to jail IF it was discovered that he knew of the offence .


The thing here is that I don’t see how law enforcement would even know that the priest knew of the offense.

Only 2 people would know about it, the priest and the confessee. And if the confessee admits it, why is it an issue?

The only way they would have an inkling that the priest knew anything is if the priest started chatting with his friends about the confession and it got back to the police. In which case, he already violated the seal by talking with his friends.


So Australian priests should not obey the law?

Edit to clarify - should not obey CIVIL law?


They are obliged, gravely obliged under pain of sin, to disobey the law in this context. Many priests have been imprisoned or executed throughout Church history for disobeying civil law when it clashes with divine / Church law. Even in modern times in places like China.

Until and unless the Church decides otherwise.


Law enforcement authorities could also have an inkling if they knew that the criminal/ penitent had recently been to confession, or even that he was a Catholic.

They could ask local priests.

They could never know for sure unless the criminal/ penitent confessed it (to the authorities).


The premises would still have to keep the seal of confession despite civil law and would incur excommunication.


YEP absolutely true.


we must wait for this week, and see what the Australian Bishop’s Conference response is to all this.

I am not sure what day it will be released, but it will be this week.
the law is not a universal law for Australia. Each state decides if it will adopt this law or not.
And the Australian Bishops conference had until September to respond to this law.

I will say, we now have a very Christian PM who voted NO to the SSM referendum. So this may make quite a difference in the implementation of any law by any state for mandatory reporting.

its not actually law anywhere here yet.


Correct. We have an obligation not to obey a civil law which violates moral law. Priests must respect the seal of the Confessional, regardless of what any civil ruler says.


its also going to depend on what the Magisterium says to the Australian Priests about this law in each state, if it comes in.

and also what form this law will take for each state that decides to adopt it.


The biggest worry is if, many years later, an adult said that they were abused as a child, and mentioned it in the confessional, and nothing was done.

I cannot imagine but that children have confessed to being the victim. It is so very common among those who molest children, to make the child think that they bear the guilt. Many victims report later that they believed they were in the wrong, or if of faith that they had sinned.


you hit the nail on the head with this


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