States working together to break the confessional seal

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter (Liberal Party)

Officials working for the nation’s attorneys-general are working on a legal strategy to break the Church’s seal of the confessional. Source: The Australian.

The next Council of Attorneys-General will discuss how to ensure mandatory reporting of child sex abuse reported in the context of the confessional.

The move will not surprise the Catholic hierarchy but governments are moving quietly to provide a legislative solution to enable accountability following the recommendations of the sex abuse royal commission.

The Australian revealed yesterday that Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton had backed the right of priests to retain the seal of the confessional in answers to the inquiry that sparked the royal commission.

This was in 2012, when Mr Ashton noted evidence that perhaps only one case had arisen where abuse was not reported to authorities after being divulged in the confessional.

The Australian understands that officials from several governments are working on potential harmonised laws at a state and federal level that would force reporting of offending that was raised in the confessional.

Church law dictates that priests must maintain absolute secrecy about anything that a person confesses, including if a pedophile were to detail his or her offending.

Victoria and NSW are still considering how to respond to the commission recommendation that the seal of the confessional be broken.

It is expected that the Turnbull Government will have to respond with potential changes to the federal Uniform Evidence Act, which provides a protection for the confessional.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said last month that the states already had agreed to harmonise their laws.

“Now, when the states reach a modified, uniform position with respect to mandatory reporting, it’s likely that there will need to be some form of modification to that exemption, that privilege, so that there’s consistency with the states’ position,” he said.

“So we assist the states, work towards an outcome and then consider the Uniform Evidence Act.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “The safety of children should always be put first. The details of the harmonisation of evidence laws I’ll leave to the Attorney-General and his counterparts, but children’s safety should always be put first.”


Push for harmony on confession laws (The Australian)

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