France's top bishop said on Tuesday that the secrecy of the confession should not take precedence over French laws on sex crimes against children, reversing his previous position after he was summoned by interior minister Gerald Darmanin.
Following publication of a damning report about sexual abuse of children by the clergy, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, who is archbishop of Reims and head of the Bishops' Conference of France, said in a radio interview last week that the rule of secrecy would prevent a priest from reporting sex crimes against children that were revealed during Catholic confession.
Under French law, anyone who is aware of a sex crime against a minor is obliged to report it to the authorities and risks heavy fines and imprisonment for failing to do so.
After meeting Darmanin on Tuesday, de Moulins-Beaufort said in a statement that the confession rite must comply with the need to protect children.
He also asked for forgiveness from people offended by what he had said during his interview last week.
In the Catholic religion, confession is a rite during which the faithful acknowledge their sins to a priest and seek forgiveness from God. It is usually performed anonymously in a confession booth, behind a screen, so that the priest can hear but not see the penitent.
Darmanin also told lawmakers on Tuesday that he had reaffirmed the primacy of French laws during his meeting with de Moulins-Beaufort.
He said the confessional secrecy in the Catholic church could not be used as a justification for not denouncing sexual crimes against children.
The French Catholic Church has had an estimated 3,000 paedophiles in its ranks over the past 70 years, the head of an independent commission investigating the sex abuse scandal said in an interview published on Oct. 3.
The scandal in the French Church was the latest to hit the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rocked by sexual abuse violations around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.