Mandatory reporting of child sex abuse by religious ministers is a welcome reform, according to Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, but the seal of confession can’t be broken for any reason.
The Australian archbishop was reacting to the introduction of legislation in the state of Victoria on Wednesday that would require religious ministers to report suspected child abuse to the civil authorities, including abuse revealed in the confessional, or face up to three years in jail.
Comensoli also complained that the archdiocese and Catholic community wasn’t given the opportunity to view and provide comment on the draft bill prior to its public release.
“Thousands of Catholic lay men and women, for whom Confession is a sacramental and necessary opportunity for grace and mercy, have been denied the opportunity to have a voice regarding legislation that might infringe on their freedom of conscience and religious freedom. Victorians will recognize that the freedom to demonstrate a person’s religion and belief in worship, observance and practice is a human right, protected by Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights,” he said.
The archbishop said mandatory reporting and protecting the seal of confession are not “mutually exclusive.”
“Confession doesn’t place people above the law. Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists’ sources,” he said. “For Catholics, Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality. I urge the Government to focus on stronger protection for children, not on infringing on religious liberty.”
In an interview with ABC Radio Melbourne, Comensoli expanded on his comments, saying he would encourage someone who admitted to abuse in the confessional to go to the police.
But added, “Personally, I’ll keep the seal.”
Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended removing the protection for the seal of confession when it comes to abuse in October 2017.
A new mandatory reporting law was passed in the Australian Capital Territory in March, which said priests could face up to two years in jail for failing to report suspected sexual abuse, even if the information was obtained in the confessional.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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