LEGISLATORS IN AUSTRALIA PROPOSE TO TAKE AWAY THE AUTONOMY OF CATHOLIC HOSPITALS AND TO OBLIGE CONFESSORS TO BREAK THE SEAL OF CONFESSION
“This morning we received sad news here in Australia. A new piece of legislation is about to be proposed that will oblige priests to report if their penitent committed a crime” – wrote Zoltán Zavarkó, one of our readers in Victoria State, Australia last Wednesday. And this was not the only bad news: “Liberal politician and member of the Federal Congress, Tanya Plibersek, wants to force all publicly funded hospitals – the Catholic ones included – to make abortion available on demand at their facilities.” Those that do not comply would lose their funding.” These announcements were publicised on Ash Wednesday according to our source.
The legislators of Victoria State in Australia proposed a new bill that puts the confidentiality of Confession, one of the Catholic Church’s seven sacraments, in danger. In this state – situated at the south-west horn of the continent-sized country – members of parliament are about to accept almost unanimously a new measure, that would legally oblige the priest confessor to betray the penitent if he or she should confess a crime, by reporting the matter to the authorities and thus leaving the penitent unprotected.
Contemporaneously, a Labour party representative at Federal Congress announced that should her party win the upcoming elections they would make the provision of abortion obligatory in all state-funded hospitals, up until the point of birth, in states where local legislation so allows. A similar situation now exists in New York.
If enacted, both of these proposals would place the Catholic Church in an impossible situation.
The seal of confession is inviolable according to the rule of law of the Catholic Church (Canon Law). It is inconceivable for a Catholic priest to disclose what he heard in the confessional.
Any priest who breaks the seal of confession is immediately excommunicated and henceforward prevented from exercising his priestly ministry.
Should the proposal become law in Victoria, there will be a real possibility that priests could face imprisonment for not obeying the legislation.
Victoria State is not the first to promulgate such a law that utterly violates religious freedom. The Canberra Congress in the Australian Capital Territory, previously passed such a bill, on the 7th of June 2018 and will become law on the 31st of March 2019. Similar legal measures were also proposed in other states, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that reports of abuse disclosed to priests during confession be reported to police – a proposal that was subsequently rejected by the Australian Bishops’ Conference.
Is there a chance that the proposal will be accepted by the State Congress?
According to our reader, it is more than likely given that the motion will be supported with a wide majority by both government and opposition parties.
Making abortion an obligatory process in every state-funded hospital is not however universally supported. It is being driven more so by the left. Furthermore, there are still two states in Australia where abortion is illegal – except in the case where the mother’s life is in danger (South Wales and South Australia).
Should the Australian Labour Party which is currently the second strongest party in Congress win the national elections this May, hospitals run by the Catholic Church could be in trouble. If ALP’s proposal comes into effect, these hospitals that are financed by the state would lose their funding if they refused to comply with the new abortion laws.
One can be sure however that neither the bishops responsible for running those hospitals nor the majority of Catholic doctors that are staff members will be willing to take the lives of innocent human beings in the womb given that the fifth commandment –‘Thou shalt not kill’ – is a God given commandment that is taken very seriously by Catholics. Those Catholics who willingly perform or participate in an abortion suffer the penalty of excommunication.
In that sense, both abortion and breaking the seal of confession are considered grave sins; both incur the severest punishment imposed by the Church– excommunication.
So what does the future hold? It is possible that Australian bishops will have to oppose the abortion law in the same way that their American colleagues did in 2012 when the Obama administration wanted to legally force Catholic hospitals to make anti-contraceptives – including abortifacients – available at their institutes.
The bishops responded by threatening to close down all of their hospitals at once should the law be enacted. Obama stepped back. (Every 6th bed in the US is Catholic run and such a measure would have cost Obama 100 billion dollars).
The chance that Catholic hospitals find themselves in this situation, will only happen if the ALP wins the elections.
Unfortunately, looking at recent trends, removing the protection of the seal of confession will not be avoidable in Australia.