August 14, 2019 12:24:47
The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has said he would rather go to jail than report admissions of child sexual abuse given in the confessional.
- Under the bill, it would be a crime for priests to fail to report child sex abuse disclosures made during confession
- Priests and clergy members are currently not covered by Victoria’s mandatory reporting laws
- The Opposition said it wanted to see the full details of the changes before determining its position
A bill which would make it mandatory for priests to report suspected child abuse to authorities, including abuse revealed in the confessional, was introduced to Victoria’s Parliament this morning.
“I hold the principle of mandatory reporting … and I also hold onto the principle of the seal of confession. My own position is that I don’t see that as mutually exclusive,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli told ABC Radio Melbourne.
Archbishop Comensoli said he would encourage someone who admitted to abuse in the confessional to tell police, and tell him again outside the confessional where he could then report without breaking the so-called seal of confession.
But if the person confessing refused to do that, he said he would not break the Catholic tradition: “Personally, I’ll keep the seal,” he said.
Under current laws, Victorian teachers, police, medical practitioners, nurses, school counsellors, early childhood workers and youth justice workers must tell authorities if they develop a reasonable belief in the course of their work that a child has been abused.
But priests and religious leaders are currently not covered by mandatory reporting laws, despite a recommendation from the child sex abuse royal commission that churches not be exempt from reporting information discovered during religious confession.
In the amendments introduced today, the Andrews Government will add religious and spiritual leaders to the list of mandated reporters.
The amendments would also ensure that disclosures of abuse during religious confession are not exempt and must be reported to police.
Those failing to report could be jailed for up to three years’ under the proposed changes, Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said.
Catholic archbishops in South Australia and the ACT, where governments have also moved to force priests to report abuse revealed in the confessional, have similarly vowed to defy the new laws.
Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said the amendments would bring about “cultural change” to make future generations of Victorian children safer.
“The message is very simple: If there is identification of child abuse, sexual abuse full stop, it needs to be presented to child protection,” he said.
‘Children are sacrosanct’
The State Opposition had committed to a similar position before the November election, meaning the bill is likely to have bipartisan support.
But Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Coalition would need to see the full details of the bill before they committed to the changes.
“We should be able to protect the interests of kids which is absolutely paramount but to do it in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily trample over religious freedoms,” he said.
Anti-abuse advocate Chrissie Foster called the legislation a breakthrough, and said it was an “historic day”.
Ms Foster, whose daughters Emma and Katie were raped by Melbourne priest Kevin O’Donnell while they were at primary school, said politicians who backed the changes should be congratulated.
She cited the case of Catholic priest Michael McArdle — who claimed in an affidavit to have confessed he was sexually abusing boys to up to 30 priests over a 25-year period — as an example of why the laws were needed.
“Instead of him offending for 25 years, now he’ll be mandatory reported at the first confession, not allowed 1,500 other confessions after that,” Ms Foster said.
“The Catholic priesthood says that the seal of confession is sacrosanct.
“Sacrosanct means something is too important or valuable to be interfered with. Well I say the bodies and lives of children are sacrosanct.”
“They [the Catholic Church] get it on the level of their own confession and their own things they’ve made up for themselves, therefore they should see this value in children.”
Additional amendments in the Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 include measures to keep Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal siblings in care together and boost the legal status of child immunisations.
August 14, 2019 05:08:29