New laws aim to change culture, not jail priests: Andrews

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (ABC Radio Melbourne)

The Victorian Government says it hopes it does not have to jail priests who fail to report child abuse revealed during the sacrament of confession. Source: The Age.

The state’s Parliament passed laws on Tuesday carrying sentences of up to three years for failing to report abuse, but Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday that he did not know of any convictions under Victoria’s broader mandatory reporting laws, in place for 25 years.

Mr Andrews said the laws, and the new legislation passed on Tuesday, were intended to create a culture in which all abuse or mistreatment of children was reported, regardless of how it came to light.

He said the bill, which passed the upper house on Tuesday night with bipartisan support, was intended to send a message all the way to the top of the Church in Rome.

“The most important thing is to send a message that the law is to be taken seriously, if people don’t obey the law, then the penalties are very significant,” he said.

“The culture is one where people have taken the laws and their responsibilities in terms of mandatory reporting very seriously.”

The changes will bring religious leaders into line with police, teachers, doctors, nurses, school counsellors and youth justice workers who are required to report child abuse to authorities.

“The special treatment for churches has ended and child abuse must be reported,” Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said in the wake of Tuesday night’s Parliamentary vote.

The Church has insisted priests would be obliged to defy the laws, with Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli previously stating he was prepared to go to jail rather than break the confessional seal.

“For Catholics, confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality,” he said in August.

But Mr Andrews said his Government now expected Church workers to obey the law of Victoria, not rules written in Rome.

“I’ve made it very clear that the law of our state is written by the Parliament of Victoria, it’s not made in Rome and there are very significant penalties for anybody and everybody who breaks the Victorian law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tasmania’s upper house yesterday passed similar laws mandating that clergy must report abuse, even when disclosed in confession, The Australian reports. Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous said the bill had “serious implications on religious freedom”.

FULL STORY

Laws forcing priests to report child abuse passed in Victorian parliament (The Age)

Tasmanian abuse law puts priests on notice (The Australian)

RELATED COVERAGE

Priests to be forced to report child abuse under new Victorian law (3AW)

Priests, religious leaders face jail if they don’t report abuse crimes divulged in confession (The Australian)

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