Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, leaves after giving evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in London on Dec. 13, 2018.
Kirsty O'Connor—PA Images/Getty Images
By Rachael Bunyan
November 9, 2019

The Roman Catholic Church says it would reject any recommendation from a U.K. inquiry that would require priests to break confession to report child sexual abuse.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, told the Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse in the U.K. on Thursday that he views confession as “a nexus between my sinful humanity and the mercy of God.”

“The history of the Catholic Church has a number of people who have been put to death in [defense] of the seal of the confession. It might come to that,” he said.

The public inquiry was set up following serious concerns that institutions in the country—including churches—had failed to protect children from sexual abuse, and continue to do so. The inquiry, which covers England and Wales, is expected to make recommendations in 2020.

Over the past 30 years, the Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of sex abuse scandals worldwide. News reports, lawsuits and other inquiries have revealed that allegations about priests molesting children were often covered up by Church officials, and priests were moved to other areas.

When asked by Brian Altman, the lead lawyer on the inquiry, how the Catholic Church would respond to a recommendation of breaking the seal of confession in cases where abusers have admitted child abuse, Nichols said: “It would not be well received. It would be rejected,” he said.

This comes after the Australian Catholic Church opposed the Australian Royal Commission’s recommendation of breaking the seal of confession in 2018.

Nichols admitted that there is a tension between the child’s best interest and the confidentiality of a disclosure made in confession.

He added: “It would also, of course, put every priest in this country in a position of great liability, because a priest would not be able to defend himself is somebody went forward and said, ‘I told Father X that I’m an abuser.’ Anybody could do that and no priest could defend himself. Therefore, I hope you consider very carefully this matter.”

Addressing the panel, Nichols said: “I repeat… my sorrow and dismay and apology, unreserved apology, to those who have suffered the horror of child abuse within the context of the Catholic Church and those who have subsequently been treated badly by us.”

In June 2019, the Catholic Church in Birmingham, U.K. was embroiled in scandal after the sex abuse inquiry found that the Archdiocese of Birmingham had protected priests accused of abuse by “repeatedly” failing to alert police to allegations. The inquiry examined 134 allegations of child sexual abuse made against 78 individuals—many of whom are no longer—since the mid 1930s. Thirteen individuals were convicted.

The Roman Catholic Church in Australia sparked controversy in August this year as Cardinal George Pell was allowed to retain his title in the Church. This is despite him being found guilty of molesting two 13-year-old choir boys in the 1990s.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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