PARIS (CNS) – Church and government leaders in France disagree over whether priests should be required to report child abuse if they learn about it in the sacrament of confession.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin met to discuss the issue on October 12, a week after the publication of a report by an independent commission which estimates that 330,000 children have been abused by Catholic priests or church workers in France since the 1950s.

The question is whether French law takes precedence over the seal of confession, a sacred practice according to which a confessor does not reveal what is said to him during a confession.

One of the recommendations in the commission’s report urged the Church to “send a clear message from the ecclesiastical authorities to penitents who go to confession and to the faithful that the seal of confession cannot derogate from the obligation under the Penal Code ( French)… to report to the judicial and administrative authorities all cases of sexual violence inflicted on a child or a vulnerable person.

Darmanin told lawmakers on October 12 that he reaffirmed “the primacy of French law” during his meeting with the Archbishop and said Catholic confessional secrecy cannot be “used as a justification for not exposing crimes sex against children “.

“Confession secrecy has existed for 200 years in our law and is recognized as professional secrecy, as for doctors and lawyers – but there is an exception for crimes committed against children under the age of 15,” added the Minister of the Interior, who also heads the government department for religions.

After the meeting, the bishops’ conference of France issued a statement saying, “The scale of violence and sexual assault on minors revealed by this report compels the Church to re-examine its practices in light of reality. Work is therefore necessary to reconcile the nature of confession with the need to protect children. The bishops’ conference said it would work on the necessary “measures and reforms” in line with the report’s recommendations at its next plenary from November 3-8.

In a note approved by Pope Francis and published by the Vatican in mid-2019, the Apostolic Penitentiary affirmed the absolute secrecy of everything that is said in confession and called on priests to defend it at all costs, even at the cost. of their life.

Just after the publication of the commission’s report, Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort told public radio France Info that confessional secrecy opened up “a space for freedom of expression before God” and should be considered “stronger than the laws. of the Republic “. After his remarks angered government officials and the media, the Archbishop said he acknowledged his remarks in the interview had been “awkward” and apologized to the “victims and those who were. saddened or shocked “by the controversy that followed.

Pope Francis called the report’s release a “moment of shame” during his general audience in Rome on October 6. He is due to meet Darmanin and French Prime Minister Jean Castex in Rome on October 18.