Whether priests respect the sanctity of the confessional is likely to be irrelevant to the royal commission into child sexual abuse because few people attend and those who do don't reveal such matters, reports The Australian.
If push came to shove, legal evidence expert Ian Freckelton SC said, there was not much room to refuse to testify, for priests or anyone else.
However, while royal commissions did not afford the protections of a court, Dr Freckelton added: "I can't imagine a royal commission attempting to coerce a priest to disclose what was said in the confines of the confessional."
While politicians including Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, who are both Catholic, have distanced themselves from Cardinal George Pell's defence of the confessional, senior churchmen queried whether it would ever become relevant.
Catholic historian Paul Collins, a former priest, said: "The vast majority of Catholics don't go to confession now. Priests could sit in confessionals for hours on end and wouldn't meet a soul.
"I think you might find priests would be exactly the same as the laity - not too many of them would be going to confession."
Jesuit and law professor Frank Brennan said that, in 27 years of his priesthood, half of it living and working in Sydney's Kings Cross, no one had ever confessed to him about child abuse.
"Those who think it is (a stumbling block) have a very different experience of confession in the Catholic Church than I do," he said.
Norah Gibbons, a member of Ireland's nine-year Ryan Commission that investigated child abuse in Catholic institutions, said on Radio National yesterday that "nobody claimed they had heard stuff in confession that they wouldn't talk about".
FULL STORY Few take confession or reveal sex crimes (Australian)