People who confess their wrongdoings to members of the clergy are currently shielded not only by canon law, which protects them from being required to report abuse, but also by the same laws of confidentiality that apply to doctors and lawyers, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday.
The proposal up for discussion, put forward by Carlo Sommaruga, National Councillor for the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, will be whether to amend the Criminal Code so that “attacks on the sexual freedom of minors are no longer protected by the professional privilege of the clergy”.
In the case of paedophilia, clergy members who learn of the misdeeds of others are entitled but not obliged to report the crime to the guardianship authorities.
Sommaruga wants to introduce a duty to report instances of child abuse. Too many church representatives hearing confessions of such crimes rely on their professional privilege to protect others, especially their colleagues, he said.
Adrian Loretan, a professor of canon law at the University of Lucerne, supports the move, pointing to laws in England and France which oblige individuals to report instances of child abuse.
“There is too much focus on the perpetrator and less on the victim,” he told Tages Anzeiger.
One of the delicate areas for debate is the sanctity of the confession box.
“Without confession, the faithful would be kept away from the sacrament of reconciliation,” Walter Müller, spokesman for the Swiss Bishops Conference told the paper.