No exceptions for priests in child abuse legislation

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08 September 2011

PRIESTS HEARING CONFESSION will not be excused from new laws making it illegal not to pass on allegations of child abuse, the government has confirmed.

The legislation drawn up in the wake of the Cloyne report,which revealed widespread cover-ups of child abuse allegations within the Catholic hierarchy, will make it mandatory for all such allegations to be reported to gardaí. Suggestions that the new laws would break the confessional seal have sparked an angry reaction among some clerics – with Cardinal Seán Brady saying it “undermines […] the right of every Catholic to freedom of religion”.

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice today told that mandatory reporting “will apply regardless of any internal rules of any religious grouping”. Saying that the “central focus” of the law was child protection, the spokesperson said a culture of not reporting in the past had led to sexual predators believing they have “impunity” in preying on children.

There was some confusion over the planned legal changes after justice minister Alan Shatter told the Irish Times yesterday that confession would not be mentioned in the legislation. However, the Department of Justice spokesperson today confirmed that although the confessional seal would not be picked out by name, it would still be covered by the law.

Minister Shatter told the paper that the controversy over the confessional seal was a “bogus issue”. It’s understood the legislation is currently with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, and the government is hoping to bring it to the Dáil by the end of October.


Child abuse legislation will not cite Confession

The Irish Times

Thursday, September 8, 2011

STEPHEN COLLINS, Political Editor, in Galway

THE LEGISLATION covering mandatory reporting of child abuse will not contain any reference to Confession, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.

The Minister described the controversy over Confession as “an entirely bogus issue” and said he did not anticipate any reference to it in the Bill.

Mr Shatter was speaking to reporters during the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Galway yesterday.

The issue of Confession arose in July after Mr Shatter published the heads of a Bill making it a criminal offence to withhold information relating to sexual abuse or other serious offences against a child or vulnerable adult.

Questioned by journalists at the time, Mr Shatter and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said there would be no exceptions to the rule, including information given to priests in Confession.

Asked yesterday if there would be a reference to the confessional in the full Bill, Mr Shatter said: “This is an entirely bogus issue. The focus of the Bill, the heads of which were published at the end of July, is to ensure that where there are what we describe as arrestable crimes, which include child sexual abuse committed against a child, and where an individual has material information that would assist the gardaí in the investigation of that crime, that they provide it to the gardaí, unless there is a reasonable excuse not to do so.”

He added that the context of the legislation is to ensure that those who know children are being abused inform the Garda; that those who are the abusers are brought to justice; and that other children are protected.

“The central focus of this Government and my colleague Frances Fitzgerald and myself is child welfare and child protection,” he said.

“And this [Confession] is an entire divergence from the central focus of what we’re seeking to address, and I think it would be helpful if those who are focusing on that issue focused to a far greater extent on the protection of children.”

Asked about the referendum on children’s rights, Ms Fitzgerald said the wording was currently with the Attorney General and she expected to see substantial progress in the next few weeks.

“We will then be looking at the wording and the Cabinet will decide on a date. At the moment we don’t have a date, but it remains a high priority for the Government once we have a wording agreed.”

The Minister said there had been some difficulties with the wordings which had been in the public arena and the Government wanted to get it right. “There have been some difficulties with those. But we are committed to wording along the lines originally proposed by the all-party constitutional committee on children,” she said.

1 Response to No exceptions for priests in child abuse legislation

  1. Sylvia says:

    From what I read in the second article it sounds as though the proposed legislation for the Republic of Ireland will be fashioned after that which has been in force in Northern Ireland for decades. The bishops and clergy serving in the North for those decades have been subject to such a law.

    The law in Northern Ireland has been copied elsewhere on this site, but I will copy it again below so you can compare it to what Shatter seems to be proposing.

    The law in Northern Ireland was the same as the law in the Republic of Ireland until 1967 when the Criminal Law Act (NI) was passed. It was an Act intended to abolish the division of crimes into felonies and misdemeanours. Section 2 (i) of that Act created a new offence, an ‘arrestable offence’, being any offence for which the Court can by law sentence the offender to imprisonment for a term of five years or more, including attempts to commit any such offence.

    Section 5 of the Act provides:

    where a person has committed an arrestable offence, it shall be the duty of every other person, who knows or believes

    (a) that the offence or some other arrestable offence has been committed;


    (b) that he has information which is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing, the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person for that offence to give that information, within a reasonable time, to a Constable and if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to do so he shall be guilty of an offence …

    Most cases of child sexual abuse fall within the category of arrestable offences. Since 1861 it has been an offence, punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, to commit an indecent assault on a male. Until 1989 such an offence against a female carried only a maximum of two years imprisonment but that was increased to ten years. However, certain sexual offences against children, including gross indecency, are not arrestable offences and there is no obligation imposed by law to report these.

    It should be noted that, where the obligation to report exists, the report must be to a constable.

    What constitutes a reasonable excuse is a question of fact in each individual case.

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