Laws requiring clergy in Victoria to report child abuse to authorities – even if it is revealed under the seal of confession – will come into effect today. Source: The Age.
By Sumeyya Ilanbey, The Age
Clergy are required to report abuse heard in confession or face up to three years in prison.
“From [today], our promise to put the safety of children ahead of the secrecy of the confession is in full effect and there is no excuse for people who fail to report abuse,” said Attorney-General Jill Hennessy.
The Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 followed a recommendation in the 2017 final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse that mandatory reporting laws no longer provide an exemption for clergy, nor for sacramental confession.
The new laws also ensure the disclosures are not exempt under the Failure to Disclose Offence in the Crimes Act and allows survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the courts to have their unfair historical compensation payments overturned.
When the Victorian Parliament passed the bill in September, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was intended to send a message all the way to the top of the Catholic Church in Rome, while Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said the “special treatment” for churches had ended.
A spokeswoman for the Melbourne Archdiocese, Annie Carrett, said the Church “fully supported” mandatory reporting.
“There has been extensive training that has gone into all of our people ... we are very mindful of children’s rights,” she said.
In an opinion piece published in The Age last year, Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli said the legislation showed “a significant lack of understanding about the act of confession – particularly ignoring the anonymity of this sacrament, and the very real expectations of Catholic families that clergy will respect the strictest confidentiality of the seal of confession”.
“Unlike a patient’s relationship with their doctor or psychologist, or a student’s relationship with their teacher, the relationship within the sacrament is between the penitent and God, with the priest being merely a conduit. It is a religious act, of a deeply spiritual nature, in which the priest has no latitude to require a penitent to identify themselves.”