Two peak bodies of the Australian Catholic Church have officially rejected calls for priests to report child sexual abuse reported in confession to law enforcement authorities, disregarding one of the major recommendations laid out in the landmark royal commission into child sexual abuse.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia today issued their joint response to the royal commission’s final report, and agreed in principle to enforce the vast majority of the recommendations aimed at stamping out child sexual abuse among the church’s institutions.
However, they say the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse revealed in confession would constitute a violation of the confessional seal, and that’s just not something the church is prepared to budge over.
At a press conference in Sydney, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the church held the secrecy of the confessional seal to be “inviolable”.
“We don’t accept that safeguarding and the seal are mutually exclusive,” he said.
“Nor do we believe that abolishing the seal will make children any safer. In fact, in some circumstances, it may even make them less safe.”
The viewpoint presented was that enforcing mandatory reporting would make it less likely for sexual abusers to confess their crimes, therefore limiting the priest’s ability to urge them to hand themselves in to police.
Coleridge also said there would be practical limitations of mandatory reporting, owing to the anonymous nature of confession.
Mark Coleridge of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference: Refusing to remove the seal of confession is not because we regard ourselves as being above the law or because we don’t value the safety of children as supremely important.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) August 31, 2018
While the church did agree to a raft of other changes aimed specifically at addressing the issue of child sexual abuse, it’ll be a while before they’ll be enacted. The Conference indicated requests to shake up their internal canon law have to go directly to the Vatican for approval.
So, the Holy See may get its hands on the Australian branch’s request to make celibacy voluntary for the priesthood, and decide not to change the canon anyway.