THE head of the Australian Catholic Bishops conference believes the Catholic Church is unlikely to introduce voluntary celibacy for its priests.

Australia’s child abuse royal commission called on the church to consider voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy, despite acknowledging it has been a major strand of the Catholic tradition from the earliest centuries.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge says in theory voluntary celibacy is a possibility but it is unlikely.

It would have to be decided by the universal church, he said. “That’s a possibility, I wouldn’t doubt, but is it going to happen soon? I doubt it.”

Archbishop Coleridge said the Holy See was likely to act on some of the royal commission’s recommendations, but not on others.

“I suspect that on that question of mandatory celibacy, given its implications for the church in every place around the world, that there won’t be much movement on that particular issue,” he told reporters in Sydney today.

On the topic of child sexual abuse, Archbishop Coleridge said that while priests do not consider themselves to be above the law, legislation requiring them to break the seal of confession to reveal child sexual abuse is ill-conceived.

He says the seal is inviolable.

“This isn’t because we hold ourselves to be above the law,” he told reporters today. “We don’t accept that safeguarding and the seal are mutually exclusive, nor do we believe that abolishing the seal will make children any safer.”

“In fact, in some circumstances, it may even make them less safe.”

Archbishop Coleridge said legislation abolishing priest-penitent privilege was based on a lack of understanding of what happens in confession.

“It is difficult therefore to see how the law will work in practice.”

“The bishops and religious leaders have the utmost respect for the rule of law.

“But we believe this proposed law is ill-conceived and impracticable.”

The states are at various stages of considering the commission’s call to extend mandatory reporting laws to include priests even if information about child sexual abuse has been disclosed in a religious confession.