Church hits out over scrapping of ‘privilege’

THERE was growing opposition in the Catholic Church last night to government proposals to bring the hearing of confessions under the remit of reporting of allegations of child abuse.

A representative of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said the plan was “ridiculous” and “a red herring”, lending voice to earlier misgivings expressed by other Church figures.

Fr Tony Flannery, a Redemptorist based in Co Galway and a member of the ACP, is also brother of Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery, but labelled the government plans “a minefield”.

“We [the ACP] are the liberal end of the Irish Church and we will totally oppose this,” Fr Flannery said.

Senior Church figures, such as Bishop Gerard Clifford, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Armagh, and Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey have already expressed misgivings over the proposal.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday Bishop McAreavey said: “The Irish Catholic Bishops and the Vatican are absolutely at one and totally committed to the practice of reporting incidents of abuse or suspicions of abuse to the civil authorities — that argument is over.”

But he said the Government plan was “unrealistic” and added: “If we want to make sure that children are safe then we want to identify in legislation and practice the real obstacles to that.

“The idea that the seal of confession is a chink in the overall commitment of the Church to ensure the protection of children is simply unreal.”

He said situations in which someone might admit such wrong-doing in confession practically never happens, a point repeated by priests who contributed to RTÉ’s Liveline programme.

One senior Church figure seen as a moderniser, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, was unavailable for comment on the issue yesterday

Fr Flannery said the whole situation was “ridiculous”, adding it was unlikely that such situations would arise, particularly given that most people now opt for more public types of confession.

He said he could not remember the last time he was in a confession box, but even in those situations the priest often would not know the identity of the person.

“I think it would be extraordinarily foolish of the Government to pursue this one,” he said, claiming he was “gobsmacked that Enda Kenny is going down this road”.

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