A Catholic priest has said he would be prepared to go to jail to defend the sanctity of the confessional, despite the Irish government's plans to criminalise priests who do not report sex abuse reported in secret.
The Irish government and Catholic Church are on a collision course after Dublin said that the Vatican's law of secrecy during confessions will not be exempt from forthcoming legislation.
But Londonderry priest Fr Paddy O'Kane said that priests would rather face being put behind bars than break canon law which states it is "absolutely illegitimate for the confessor to make the penitent known" for any reason.
"I would certainly be prepared to go to jail over this. I don't think it would come to that but I would go to jail," said the Donegal native.
"The Republic's Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, says he intends to introduce legislation to force priests to break this seal in the interests of child protection.
"In a criminal matter, a priest may encourage a penitent to surrender to authorities voluntarily. However, this is the most a priest can do. We cannot directly or indirectly disclose the crime to anyone.
"It goes without question that children must be safeguarded at all costs but this very specific priest-penitent privilege is usually respected in law and without it a priest's capacity to fulfil his ministry is inhibited."
Fr O'Kane, from the Holy Family parish in Derry's Ballymagroarty estate, said the privilege was respected worldwide "including the north of Ireland where of course we are under British law".
His Derry diocese includes numerous clergy in parishes across north Donegal.
Fr O'Kane moved back to Ballymagroarty in December 2009 from a parish in Moville in Donegal's Inishowen peninsula.
He added: "I am sure he is not making this controversial initiative without the blessing of the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who says that he is a practising Catholic.
"It has been accepted worldwide and down through the centuries that a priest cannot under any circumstances break this sacramental seal which is so sacrosanct that even if it were to save his good name or to refute a false allegation or even to save his own life, he must always respect the binding nature of this seal.
The Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady also voiced opposition to the plan at the weekend. He said any intrusion on the sacrament was "a challenge to the very basis of a free society".
The Republic's Department of Justice said at the weekend that Mr Shatter "reiterates his statement" on the matter.
The row between the Irish government and Catholic Church over its role in hiding sex abuse erupted after Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched an incendiary attack on the Vatican in the wake of the Cloyne Report into child protection failures by the diocese. Dublin-Vatican relations nosedived as the Holy See's ambassador was recalled to Rome.