Priests should be compelled to break the seal of Confession in cases of child abuse, a lawyer has told a national inquiry.

Solicitor David Enright made the proposal at the opening of a three-week hearing into Benedictine schools.

It echoes the recommendation made by Australia’s royal commission on child abuse. In August Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said he would go to jail rather than violate the seal. The Catechism says the seal of Confession is “inviolable” and any priest who violates it incurs automatic excommunication.

Mr Enright, a solicitor who represents former pupils at a Comboni missionary school, told the hearing on Monday: “Matters revealed in Confession, including child abuse, cannot be used in governance.

“One can’t think of a more serious obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic Church to achieving child protection.”

He added: “The Catholic Church is so opaque, so disparate, so full of separate bodies who are not subject to any authority that it is difficult to see how reform can be made to provide good governance and introduce acceptable standards of child protection.”

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