Lutheran clergy must report knowledge of child sexual abuse
Confidentiality rules being modified
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has agreed to change its rules on confidentiality of pastoral care and confession. Under the new rules, members of the clergy will be required to report to police any knowledge of sexual abuse of children that comes to their attention.
Previously, confidentiality could only be broken in cases of aggravated abuse. Representatives of the church agreed in talks with Minister of Social Services Paula Risikko (Nat. Coalition Party), Minister of Culture Stefan Wallin (Swed. People’s Party), and Minister of Justice Tuija Brax (Green), that pastors would no longer have to evaluate if an act of abuse falls into the category of “aggravated”.
“With our new interpretation, we are confident that the interests of the child go ahead all other considerations”, says Risikko, who convened the group.
The Office of the Church Council will now draw up a set of guidelines with the new instructions. In February the Bishops’ Conference will go over the instructions, which will be included in the training of clergy.
“The ministries will work together to make sure that there is progress in the matter”, Risikko says.
Under the new rules, a member of the clergy will be expected to reveal information on what he or she has heard during pastoral care. The name of the person giving the information would would be kept a secret, unless that person is the abuser.
If the victim speaks to the pastor, the pastor must disclose the name of the abuser and the circumstances of the case. If a perpetrator comes clean to the pastor, the pastor can disclose the name of the perpetrator and the circumstances.
The Finnish Orthodox Church said on Thursday that it is not changing its practice on confidentiality of confession.
According to Orthodox Archbishop Leo, the guidelines of the Orthodox Church on the matter are up to date.
Parliament is currently processing a bill put forward by the ministry of Justice, which would impose more severe punishments on the abuse of children, and would lower the threshold for calling an act “aggravated”.
The bill does not touch upon the issue of pastoral confidentiality.
“A decision was made among the ministries and the church that no legislative measures would be imposed on the matter, and that an internal review by the church would be the starting point”, says Janne Kanerva, a civil servant drawing up changes to sex crime legislation.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Risikko: protecting children more important than confidentiality in pastoral care (17.5.2010)
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland