A CATHOLIC bishop says priests who hear the confessions of paedophiles have the option of urging the "criminals to turn themselves in" or refusing them forgiveness, but should not break the "sacred" Seal of Confession.
The Most Reverend Anthony Fisher, who is the Bishop of Parramatta, wrote to members of the diocese this week after Prime Minister Julia Gillard called for a royal commission into child abuse.
Child abuse across a range of institutions will be the subject of the royal commission, not just the Catholic Church.
There have been calls for priests who hear the confessions of paedophiles to appear before the royal commission.
It was a suggestion rejected by the head of the Catholic Church in Australia Cardinal George Pell.
"The Seal of Confession is inviolable," Cardinal Pell said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Rev Fisher in his message, although he was more expansive.
"If someone is abusing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a priest may refuse to hear their confession or refuse them absolution; he may also rebuke those whose sins are grave and bid criminals turn themselves in," Rev Fisher wrote.
"But no priest will break the sacred Seal of Confession between God and the penitent."
Rev Fisher also welcomed Ms Gillard's decision to call the royal commission, adding the sexual abuse of children was to be "condemned in the strongest possible terms".
He assured followers the church "put victims first" in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse.
"I know I speak for our entire Catholic community when I say that our hearts go out to the victims of child sexual abuse, the 'little ones' whom Christ most loves, and to their families," he wrote.
"I want to assure you, as I did in my pastoral letter of two months ago, that we now have in place a rigorous process for dealing with complaints of abuse and that we work closely with police and other authorities.
"With the help of this royal commission and other independent inquiries we hope to learn new ways of ensuring that every child is safe in the future and that victims of past offences are assisted."
He also made reference to the fact two educators from within the Parramatta Diocese had been charged with child sex offences in recent times.
"I know this has been upsetting for many of you; it certainly has been for me. This is truly a time in 'the valley of tears' for the Church in Australia," he wrote.