2.10 Guidance on Child Safeguarding and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Confession/ The Sacrament of Reconciliation

Reconciliation (Confession) is the Sacrament in which a Baptised person acknowledges his or her sins, asks forgiveness, accepts the penance imposed by the priest and is given absolution “through the ministry of the priest”. The Sacrament should be celebrated in a manner which provides the penitent with an experience of safety, honesty and acceptance.

The Confessional

The Irish Episcopal Conference, in accordance with the prescriptions of canon 964, and with due regard for the authentic Interpretation of canon 964 §2 by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, 7 July 1998 (AAS 90 [1998] 711 [1]) has decreed the following complementary norms governing the disposition and location of confessionals

  • Confessionals are to be located in a place which is clearly visible and accessible, and are to be fitted with a fixed grille between the penitent and confessor
  • Rooms which are used as confessionals must be in a public place, visible (for example through the provision of a glass panel), and provide the penitent with the option of using a grille
  • Sacramental confession for children should be in a place where both priest and child may be seen but not heard, preferably in a church or oratory.4

Canon Law establishes the confessional as the proper location for the celebration of the Sacrament (Canon 964 §3), but does not exclude celebration elsewhere, when there is a “just cause”. Common sense and good pastoral practice must determine what a “just cause” means.

Safeguarding Children during the Sacrament of Reconciliation

In celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation priests should be mindful of the following

  • When children attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation, all efforts should be made to provide a safe and open environment (Standard 1), in line with Canon law.
  • Disclosures of abuse must be addressed appropriately so that risk to children is prevented.

Procedures for a penitent who discloses abuse during Confession:

If a penitent discloses abuse during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the confessor should remind the penitent that whatever is disclosed in Confession will not be repeated by the confessor outside the confessional, and

In the case of an abused penitent who is a child/minor:

  1. Sensitively reassure the child or young person that he or she was right to disclose the abuse
  2. Reassure him/her that he/she has not committed any sin and is not to blame
  3. Encourage the child or young person to disclose the abuse to an adult they trust (e.g. a relative, teacher, friend), who will know what to do with this information

In the case of an abused penitent who is an adult

  1. Advise the penitent of the importance of seeking help for himself or herself and ensuring the safety of children
  2. Advise the penitent where this help may be obtained
  3. Advise the adult of the importance of contacting the statutory, and other appropriate authorities, who deal with these issues and provide the adult with appropriate contact details for those authorities

In the case of an abused penitent who discloses that they have abused:

  1. Acknowledge the gravity of the disclosure and strongly advise him or her to seek professional help (e.g. counselling, consultation with their GP) and to go to the statutory and other appropriate authorities.

All priests should periodically participate in in-service training in relation to the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This in-service training should incorporate the appropriate guidance for responding pastorally and professionally to disclosures of abuse. It is strongly recommended that contact details for statutory authorities and voluntary agencies (such as Towards Healing and Towards Peace) should be available at hand in the Confessional.