A federal and state agreement to standardise laws making it mandatory for priests to report child sexual abuse revealed during confession is “counter-productive and unjust”, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said. Source: The Weekend Australian.
The state and federal attorneys-general agreed to three principles for the laws at a meeting in Adelaide on Friday.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president said that while the Church supports nationally consistent mandatory reporting regimes and reportable conduct schemes that include ministers of religion as mandatory reporters, it does not consider the removal of legal protections for the sacramental seal of confession to be “helpful or necessary”.
“The removal of protections at law would be ineffective, counter-productive and unjust,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Ineffective because abusers do not seek out confession and certainly would not seek it out if they knew that their offences would be reported; counter-productive because the rare opportunity a priest may have to counsel abusers to turn themselves in and amend their life would be lost; and unjust because it would establish as a matter of law a situation where a priest would not be able to defend himself against an accusation made against him.”
The law changes agreed upon by the attorneys-general fall under the responsibility of state and territory governments and were recommended by the 2013 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The principles the attorneys-general agreed upon include that “confessional privilege” cannot be relied upon to avoid a child protection or criminal obligation to report beliefs, suspicions or knowledge of child abuse. They also dictate that clergy would not be able to use that defence to avoid giving evidence against a third party in criminal or civil proceedings.
The unified position means priests across Australia would be required to break the seal of confession in cases of child abuse. Work on such laws is already well under way in most states and territories.
“Some states are already in compliance with this and they don’t have to do anything else,” said Luke Beck, a legal expert and associate professor at Monash University. “Now, all have signed up and said ‘yes, we’re going to do it’.”
Priests to report confessed sex abuse under new laws (The Weekend Australian)
States agree on mandatory reporting laws (News.com.au)