The lead Bishop for safeguarding in the Catholic Church in England and Wales has defended the Seal of the Confessional even when a priest may hear disclosures of abuse.
Bishop Paul Mason was speaking at a press conference following the biannual plenary meetings of Catholic bishops.
It follows the recent publication of the final report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The report recommended that failure to report a disclosure of child sexual abuse should be a criminal offence, including disclosures made in the confessional.
Bishop Mason said:"Of course it's an extremely sensitive and difficult area. IICSA itself noted that priests who would have described ever having had a paedophile in the Confessional was something they didn't come across. Anecdotally when I speak to fellow bishops or to priests it's not something I myself have ever come across.
"My point is that if there is any way in which we can have contact with these people and an opportunity to turn their lives around and to report themselves to the authorities, if we were designated mandatory reporters and we had to report what we heard in the confessional, then that one point of contact we had with these people is lost.
"No-one would ultimately come to a confessional if they thought they would be immediately reported to the authorities. They could report themselves without necessarily going via the confessional.
"I see why it raises a degree of incomprehension but in reality I wonder whether it is happening. Is it the case that people are coming to confession and confessing these sins and priests aren't saying anything about it? Even if they wanted to, the fact is they haven't heard it in the first place by all accounts. Perhaps it becomes an issue theoretically, there may be a rare instance where it may happen, but it's certainly not a common occurrence."