ACT confession law has legal complexities

By Karen Sweeney
Australian Associated Press via
June 11, 2018

The ACT says a new law aimed at forcing priests to report child sexual abuse admissions hearing in confession is about putting children first.

Priests in the ACT will be legally required to report any admissions of child sexual abuse they hear during the Catholic sacrament of confession.

The ACT Legislative Assembly on Friday passed legislation requiring priests to break the seal of confession and report abusers.

But there will be a nine-month wait before the law is enforced as the government works through "legal complexities" of the bill, which clashes with Canon Law governing the Catholic Church.

Under Canon Law, priests are forbidden from revealing what they hear in confession.

Territory Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay, a former Uniting Church minister, says the government knows there are significant complexities.

"We believe that the primary response must be for the protection of children," he told ABC radio.

In the ACT, abuse made known to employees of religious services and entities will be reportable from July but those revealed during confession won't be until April.

"It must be that when reportable conduct becomes [known] there is the chance for it to be overseen, for the chance for it to be investigated, for the institution to have the chance to respond," Mr Ramsay said.

Previously, some Catholic figures, including Jesuit Father Frank Brennan, have said they would defy any law that sought to break the seal of the confessional.

It's also previously been noted that a secular legal regime could have little to no chance of proving what was said in a confession.

The ACT's new reportable conduct scheme requires allegations or convictions of misconduct involving children be made known to the ACT Ombudsman.



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