A-G backs laws forcing priests to break confession over child abuse

By David Wroe
Sydney Morning Heralnd
June 10, 2018

Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge leaves the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has expressed support for changes to the law that would force priests to report suspicions of child sex abuse arising from the confessional.

The changes, which would fall to state and territory governments, are among the most contentious of the recommendations from the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Mr Porter said the Council of Attorneys-General – which includes himself and state and territory counterparts – was working on harmonised laws.

“My personal instincts are protective and that, ultimately, the need to protect people from sexual abuse, but particularly children, is something that should take some precedence,” he said.

Last week the ACT became the first jurisdiction to introduce laws forcing priests to break the seal of confession in cases where child abuse is disclosed.

Other states are waiting for the outcome of the national discussions. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in April the religious confessional question “should be addressed at a national level”.

“It is beyond the jurisdiction of a state,” she said.

But Mr Porter’s comments appear to bolster the likelihood of a unified position by the states.

He said the Council of Attorneys-General would be “largely taking the role in ensuring the recommendation is met and that the recommendation is met in a way that is consistent”.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the church had begun talks with Vatican officials and “takes seriously any attempt to improve child safety”.

But he added: “Little solid evidence was presented during the royal commission that the sacrament has been abused in such a way as to allow paedophiles to continue to perpetrate evil.

"Moreover, there are many practical questions relating to removal of the seal, including the identification of individuals accessing the sacrament.”

He said the church believed that laws compelling priests to break the seal of the confessional would therefore do nothing to make children safer. But the church remained “committed to discussion with governments on this and any other issue relating to child safety”.



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