Queensland Archbishop Opposes Planned Law to Compel Priests to Report Child Sexual Abuse
Australian Associated Press
January 16, 2020
| Queensland government’s proposed law to compel priests to report child sexual abuse offences disclosed during confessions is in line with a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photograph: Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images|
A move to compel Queensland priests to report child sexual abuse offences disclosed during confessions would fail to make children safer, Brisbane’s Catholic archbishop has said.
Mark Coleridge has opposed a state government plan to legislate against the sanctity of the confessional as an excuse, defence or privilege.
In his submission to the committee considering the bill, the archbishop claimed it would be unworkable and fails to understand the practicalities of a confessional.
“The mechanism within this legislation which deals with the confessional seal quite simply will not make a difference to the safety of our young people,” he wrote.
The Queensland government’s proposed law is in line with a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It includes a failure to protect offence carrying up to five years in prison, and up to three for failing to report abuse.
However, the archbishop said a confession is between the penitent and God, with the task of the priest being to enable that dialogue.
“The proposed legislation would make the priest at this vital point less a servant of God than an agent of the state,” he added.
“Clergy have died because they have refused to submit to the claims of the state and preferred to defend the rights of the penitent before God and the rights of God before the penitent.
“This legislation is bound to fail in this regard.”
The archbishop said the church was committed to the protection of children, but rejected claims the seal of confession should be broken in law because it facilitated secrecy and cover-ups.
Tim Reid, general manager of the Anglican Church in south Queensland, wrote in his submission that there was nothing in Anglican Church law in force in the diocese stopping clergy from reporting abuse they had learnt of in a confession.
“Nevertheless, the General Synod of the Anglican Church has passed legislation which, in effect, allows clergy to comply with mandatory reporting laws relating to child sexual abuse or avoid committing a failure to report offence without breaching Church laws regarding confession,” he wrote.
If the law is passed, child sex offenders would also be stopped from using their community standing to lessen their sentence, in circumstances where it factors into their crimes.