An archbishop in Australia has said priests will not report crimes if that involved breaching the seal of confession, after a new mandatory reporting law was passed in the Australian Capital Territory.
Starting Monday, all people in the territory will have to report allegations of child abuse, including religious ministers who hear the allegation in a confessional. If convicted, those that fail to report face up to two years in jail.
Church law forbids the revelation of any sin admitted in confession under the penalty of excommunication.
A 2017 report from the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse recommended the Church change the law when it came to the sexual abuse of children.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn said in a statement, “In the unlikely case of unreported child abuse being disclosed during confession, priests will, without breaching the Seal of Confession, take the opportunity to encourage and assist the person to report to civil authorities.”
“The sexual abuse of children and vulnerable people is both a crime and a sin. Civil authorities deal with crime and punishment. The community of faith deals with sin and forgiveness, support and healing. Along with other good citizens, Catholics seek to comply with the Government’s legislation. We will continue to maintain safe, nurturing environments for our children,” the statement March 27 continued.
“The proposed legislation requires any citizen to report matters of child abuse to the police. The Catholic Church believes this is a truly significant development since it will help capture child abuse not only in institutions, but in the wider community,” the statement said.
Speaking to reporters after the release of the statement, Prowse reiterated this point, calling it a “game changer.”
“I see it that the confessional will not become the battleground for criminality and that it will not be necessary for us to have these sorts of hypothetical discussions because it’s already out in the community,” the archbishop explained.
“I think the optics of everybody in the ACT responsible is a great look and I believe that’s going to render the idea of matters being negotiated of a criminal nature in the confessional, will make it obsolete, largely obsolete,” he added.
In a later interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Prowse had a message for people who had committed sins that were “reportable things.”
“Deal with them please before you come into the confessional so that we don’t have to deal with crime punishment, when we’re really there as experts on the merciful picture of the Lord in our midst today,” the archbishop said.
Gordon Ramsay, the attorney general for the Australian Capital Territory, told the station that “there’s no justification for any excuses” not to report child abuse.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for any leader of any institution to be finding reasons why they should not be implementing this legislation,” Ramsay told the ABC.