The sacrament of confession and child sexual abuse: Reported practise of Tasmanian Anglican clergy navigating the confidentiality dilemma

Mr Mike Guerzoni1

1School Of Social Sciences, University Of Tasmania, Sandy Bay  , Australia

The sacrament of confession is criticised for impeding clerical reporting of information about child sexual abuse to authorities. The sacrament of confession is found within Catholicism and Anglicanism, and traditionally imposes a ‘seal’ on priests, forbidding them from ever revealing details of the sins confessed to them. In addition, this religious confidentiality is protected in Australia under the statutes regulating the laws of evidence, placed alongside communications privileges of other professionals (doctors, counselors). In Tasmania, this privilege is found in s127 of the Evidence Act 2001. This creates a moral dilemma for the clergy when hearing of abuse in the confessional, especially in jurisdictions where priests are required to report abuse by law: should the priest obey canon law or the laws of the state?

There have been recent efforts in Australian Anglicanism to address this dilemma via canonical reform in 2014 and 2017, amendments which were introduced into the Tasmanian Anglican Church in June 2018. In light of these changes, this presentation explores the perspectives of Anglican clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania towards the confessional seal, prior to the installation of these amendments in 2018. Findings reveal that most clergy would not obey what was then the canon law and ecclesiastical policy about the confessional seal, on the grounds that this requirement contravenes their theological and moral principles. The clergy also describe their approaches to responding to information of harm revealed both in confessional and pastoral encounters, demonstrating a desire to act in ways that assist all parties involved. The presentation seeks to highlight the difference of opinion towards religious confidentiality by ministers of religion in Australia, and how these stem from a desire to rectify the sins of the past.


Mike Guerzoni (BA(Hons), University of Tasmania) is a Criminologist in the School of Social Sciences of the University of Tasmania.  Mike’s research orientates around clerical culture and practice towards child sexual abuse and child protection in Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.

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