Proposed Government legislation which threatens the inviolability of the seal of confession is a challenge to the right of every Catholic to freedom of religion and conscience, Cardinal Seán Brady (pictured) has said.
Speaking in Knock, Dr Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said confession was a sacred and treasured rite.
He was commenting following Government plans to put child protection measures, including a version of mandatory reporting, on a statutory footing in the wake of the Cloyne report. The mandatory reporting requirement would extend to the sacrament of confession.
The Cloyne report examined child abuse allegations in the diocese and highlighted reporting failures.
Cardinal Brady said: “Freedom to participate in worship and to enjoy the long-established rites of the Church is so fundamental that any intrusion upon it is a challenge to the very basis of a free society.
“For example, the inviolability of the seal of confession is so fundamental to the very nature of the sacrament that any proposal that undermines that inviolability is a challenge to the right of every Catholic to freedom of religion and conscience.”
However, the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, has reiterated the Government's intention to apply their mandatory reporting legislation to the confessional.
According to the RTE news website, Ms Fitzgerald said she intends to bring the draft heads of the planned legislation to Government in coming months.
She referred to Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Dáil speech in July in which he said that mandatory reporting of child abuse would be required and that the seal of confession would not be exempt.
The US states of New Hampshire and Maryland examined proposals to introduce similar legislation, but the proposals were dropped in both cases.
If Ireland was to introduce such a law it would make the country almost unique in the Western world.