Ireland attacks confessional privilege after scandal

DUBLIN Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:06pm BST

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's prime minister on Thursday said Catholic clerics would be prosecuted if they failed to tell the authorities about crimes disclosed during confession, the latest blow to the prestige of the once-dominant Church.

A report this week found that the Church concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, and that clerics appeared to follow Church law rather than Irish guidelines to protect minors.

"The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar," Prime Minister Enda Kenny told journalists on Thursday, referring to the hooked staff held by Catholic bishops during religious services.

Kenny said his government would submit legislation to parliament that could jail clerics for up to five years if they failed to report to authorities information about the abuse of children.

The law will override the confessional privilege in Church law that prevents clerics from sharing information, he said.

A series of revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Ireland's Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore on Thursday summoned the Pope's representative, the papal nuncio, after the report said that the Vatican had undermined Irish guidelines on reporting sex abuse by referring to them as "study guidelines."

"We consider it absolutely unacceptable that the Vatican intervened here in a way which had the effect of undermining the efforts to deal adequately with the issue of child sexual abuse," Gilmore said. "We want a response from the Vatican."

The report on the diocese of Cloyne in county Cork lists how the diocese failed to report all sexual abuse complaints to the police and did not report any complaints to the health authorities between 1996 and 2008.

The bishop formerly responsible for the diocese, John Magee, who had previously served as private secretary to three popes, falsely told the authorities that he was reporting all abuse allegations to the police, the report said.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries)

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