Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

'No exemption' on abuse reporting

Frances Fitzgerald has ruled out exempting the Catholic sacrament of confession from rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald has ruled out exempting the confession box from long-awaited rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse.

Amid the fallout from the Cloyne report's exposure of former bishop John Magee for failing to unmask abusive priests, the minister reiterated warnings that there will be no religious exceptions to hardline rules on withholding information.

Ms Fitzgerald dismissed out of hand suggestions that information given to a Catholic priest in the confessional about crimes against a child can remain confidential.

The church's watchdog on clerical child abuse, Ian Elliot, has said there should be room to allow clerics to keep secret details passed on when someone seeks forgiveness.

But Ms Fitzgerald backed Taoiseach Enda Kenny's warning on Thursday that one rule will apply to everyone in Ireland.

The minister said: "The point is, if there is a law in the land, it has to be followed by everybody. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions. I'm not concerned, neither is the Government, about the internal laws, the rules governing any body."

The Government is to draw up legislation to bring updated child protection guidelines into law and to make it mandatory for organisations to follow the rules. Under the planned laws anyone suspected case of abuse must be reported, while under other reforms anyone found to have withheld information on a crime against a child will face jail.

Bishop of Dromore John McAreavy said it was "unreal" to say that the seal of confession was the "chink" in the commitment of the church to ensure child protection. He claimed there was anecdotal evidence that suggested child abusers did not go to confession to admit their sins.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said time had been set aside in the Dail on Wednesday to debate the Cloyne report. Both he and Ms Fitzgerald are working on a draft motion for the debate.

A Department of Justice statement said: "Other parties and political groups will then be consulted about the motion in an effort to reach agreement on its terms, so that the Dail can be united in expressing its abhorrence at the findings of the report and its determination that the State take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of children."

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