WA law to force priests to break confessional seal

The confessional at St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth (The eRecord/Josh Low)

Catholic priests in Western Australia will be forced to break the seal of the confession to report child sexual abuse, with the McGowan Government set to introduce mandatory reporting laws. Source: The West Australian.

But the laws put the government on a collision course with Rome, with the Church standing firm in its refusal to change rules around the sacred rite.

Child Protection Minister Simone McGuirk said legislation would be introduced in the second half of this year to amend the Children and Community Services Act to require ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse, including where they have gained this knowledge through religious confession.

“Priests who believe child sex abuse is occurring should report it and they should be held accountable if they fail to do so,” she said.

Religious officials found guilty of failing to report would face a maximum penalty of $6000 but, more crucially, would be saddled with a criminal record and likely banned from working with children.

The changes follow recommendations by the royal commission into institutional child abuse, which suggested the confessional seal was a factor in allowing abuse to go unreported.

The Church has already said it will not change secrecy laws around confession. Perth Catholic Archbishop Timothy Costelloe warned last year that under canon law, a priest faced excommunication for violating the seal. He has said if the law was changed, a child abuser would simply not go to confession.

The Northern Territory and South Australia already require ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse. The ACT and Tasmania are also changing laws.

The new reporting requirements would apply to all religious officials including priests, ministers, imams, rabbis, pastors and Salvation Army officers.

Mandatory reporting laws already apply to other professionals working with children, including doctors and teachers.


New legislation to force WA Catholic priests to report child sexual abuse (The West Australian

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