PUNTA DE TRALCA, Chile – The Chilean Catholic Church criticized on Monday a bill now under debate in Congress that would require priests to divulge anything they learn in confession about the sexual abuse of minors.
The chairman of the bishops’ conference, Fernando Ramos, insisted that for the church, confession is a “sacred act by which sinners reconcile themselves with God.”
“That is why it is fundamental to maintain the means to that end,” he told reporters before the beginning of the 118th plenary assembly of the bishops’ conference here in the seaside town of Punta de Tralca.
“The Chilean legislature says that is a very important moment. Our position is that we must always shield the seal of confession because it is a sacred act,” Bishop Ramos said.
Last week the lower house of Congress passed a bill ordering the clergy to report to authorities all cases of child abuse they learn about, including in the confessional.
The measure, which will now be debated in the Senate, seeks to modify the criminal code and considers increasing the sentences in cases of a failure to report.
The plenary assembly is scheduled to draw up a document, a commitment made in the extraordinary meeting of August 2018, about good behavior and the prevention of abuse in ecclesiastical environments.
“The document will particularly deal with the integrity and pastoral service of the church,” Ramos said.
“We’ve discussed that in a number of assemblies. Since the extraordinary halfway through last year we have taken on several commitments along that line, including collaboration with the Justice system and our full availability to help resolve every one of those cases,” he said.
Ramos added that “everyone responsible for the crime of sexual abuse” must “accept that responsibility.”
The Chilean bishops’ conference published last August a list of 42 priests and a deacon sentenced by civil or canon courts for the sexual abuse of minors.
The Attorney General’s Office is investigating 219 members of the Chilean clergy for 158 cases of sexual abuse involving 241 victims, of whom 123 were minors at the time the violations occurred.