World News

Confessional secret no defense for Belgian priest in suicide case

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian court ruled that a Roman Catholic priest cannot use the secrecy of confession as a defense when it convicted a clergyman in Bruges on Monday of failing to seek help for a man who went on to commit suicide.

Alexander Stroobandt was contacted by a man who was battling depression. The priest exchanged several phone calls and text messages with the man, whom he knew. But the man went on to kill himself by piping engine exhaust fumes into his car.

The man’s wife subsequently heard of the contact with the priest and lodged a complaint with prosecutors, whose view was that everyone, without exception, had to help in an emergency.

In concurring, the court handed Stroobandt a suspended one month jail term and ordered him to pay the widow a symbolic euro in damages. His lawyer Jan Leysen said he planned to appeal, arguing that the secrecy of confession was indeed absolute.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Alison Williams