Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Priests told to reveal information

Priests will not be excused for withholding information about alleged child abuse even if it is given to them during confession under planned reforms

Priests will not be excused for withholding information about alleged child abuse even if it is given to them during the holy sacrament of confession, Justice Minster Alan Shatter has said.

In an unprecedented display of tough action against the Catholic Church in Ireland, new laws are to be brought in by autumn which could see clerics and others imprisoned for up to five years if they do not volunteer information about suspected paedophilia.

Mr Shatter has warned doctors will also be expected to abandon the age-old Hippocratic oath - the traditional code of ethical medical practice - of sworn confidentiality with patients, if it relates to sexual abuse.

The legislation will leave "no grey legal areas" around the investigation and prosecution of anybody who conceals or fails to report to gardai sexual offences against children or vulnerable adults, said the Justice Minister.

Asked if this included the likes of priests hearing confessions and doctors talking with patients, Mr Shatter said the law will apply to everyone and that the internal rules of any organisation - faith or otherwise - did not matter. He said the move was about what the state expected of every individual and organisation involved in child protection.

Mr Shatter said the Cloyne report could not be starker or more disturbing. He has handed a copy to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who has appointed his Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne to examine if any further prosecutions can be taken against the clerical abusers in the diocese.

The force watchdog, the Garda Ombudsman, has also been asked to look into concerns over the actions of some gardai identified in the report.

Mr Shatter apologised on behalf of the state where it failed any victims.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the report heralded the end of voluntary compliance over child protection measures and that all organisations - religious, sporting, educational or medical - will be treated the same in the state's eyes.

"There will be no exceptions, no exemptions," she said.

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