Faith leaders united on tip-off refusal

Sydney, Australia - CHRISTIAN and Jewish leaders have backed Muslim clerics in refusing to give tip-offs to national security authorities about confessions made by their followers.

Religious leaders said protecting confidential information was their "bread and butter" and they would not betray the trust of their followers.

The Jesuit Social Services associate director, Peter Norden, told The Australian he would be prepared to give police information only if the tip-off was crucial for the safety of others. But he said he would make sure the information given did not identify the person who provided it.

"If there's a particular threat, then you can urge the person or seek the permission of a person to take the matter further," said Father Norden, who is priest to some of Melbourne's underworld figures.

"You would be entitled to take some steps to protect human life but you need to do that in such a way that it was of a general nature and wouldn't identify the person concerned."

He said religious leaders could not be seen to betray their followers' confidence. "It's the bread and butter of our profession," said Father Norden.

"If you were (to betray confessors), you would have to do away with the profession for minister of religion."

The Rabbinical Council of Victoria president Meir Shlomo Kluwgant said rabbis were bound to the same confidentiality procedures as counsellors, but were able to tip-off the authorities if the information they received suggested someone's life was in danger.

"Certainly the very first thing that a rabbi would do would be to dissuade their congregant from committing a crime," he said.

His comments follow revelations in The Australian last week that Muslim clerics did not provide national security authorities with tip-offs about their followers seeking advice on travelling overseas to join the Islamic jihad movement.