Priests who do not inform the police after learning about child abuse in confession should face criminal charges, an Australian inquiry has said.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that all states and territories in the country introduce legislation to punish priests for not breaking the seal of the confessional.

“The right to practise one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse,” the commission wrote.

“Institutions directed to caring for and providing services for children, including religious institutions, must provide an environment where children are safe from sexual abuse. Reporting information relevant to child sexual abuse to the police is critical to ensuring the safety of children.”

The recommendation will be strongly resisted by the Church, which has always guarded the absolute confidentiality of confession.

Under canon law, priests may never break the seal of the confessional, even under threat of death. Any priest who breaks the seal faces automatic excommunication.

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