Queensland Bishop Michael Mccarthy Says Priests Will Not Break Seal of Confession to Report Sex Abuse, Despite New Law

By Jemima Burt and Paul Culliver
September 11, 2020

Bishop Michael McCarthy says Catholic priests are "not allowed to break the seal of confession".(Supplied: Catholic Church)

A Queensland bishop says priests in his diocese will not break the "seal of confession" and report known or suspected cases of sexual abuse to police, despite State Parliament passing legislation this week that requires them to do so.

Bishop Michael McCarthy, who leads the Diocese of Rockhampton, says his priests are bound to keep the seal of confession, even if sexual abuse is discussed.

The new legislation means religious institutions and their members will be compelled to break the seal of confession to report child sexual abuse or face three years in jail.

Priests will no longer be able to use the sanctity of the confessional as a defence or an excuse in child sex abuse matters.

But Bishop McCarthy said Rome had not changed its view.

"Within the Catholic Church, a priest is not allowed to break the seal of confession. That is what we have all promised and what we have all signed up to do," he said.

"It's a real dilemma that we have the state law that has been passed and it has been passed in other jurisdictions now.

"However, confession is conversation between that person and God.

"Certainly in confession, there is the opportunity to say to people if it is criminal, or evil then it is time to go and talk to the police."

Bishop McCarthy said the church was working to ensure all sexual abuse was reported.

"We all follow the law and certainly one of the great challenges of the royal commission has been to ensure that we all follow the law and make our churches the safest place we can for our children," he said.

"That's our paramount wish and we have reviewed and overhauled all of our reporting structures.

"I'll be spending some time with my priests as to how do we put this into practice in the future."

'We've still got a hell of a fight'

In 2004, former Diocese of Rockhampton priest Michael McArdle was jailed for six years for 62 indecent dealing charges against 14 boys and two girls over a 22-year period from 1965 in regional Catholic parishes across Queensland.

In an affidavit filed by McArdle in 2004, he revealed that he had confessed his crimes 1,500 times to 30 different priests over a 25-year period.

Michelle James, head of abuse law at Maurice Blackburn, which acted for a man abused as a boy by McArdle, said the Catholic Church's response was to move the priest from parish to parish, thus enabling his abuse of children to continue.

"[This] put many children at risk who did not need to be put at risk, because the nature of his proclivities and his abuse was very well known," Ms James said.

She said the new legislation in Queensland requiring clergy to report cases of abuse to police was well overdue, as it had been a recommendation made by the royal commission in 2015.

Allan Allaway was abused at Neerkol orphanage as a child.(ABC News: Lexy Hamilton-Smith)

Another survivor of abuse by Catholic clergy, Allan Allaway, suffered both physical and sexual abuse as a child when he lived at the church's Neerkol Orphanage, just outside Rockhampton.

Children were beaten, molested and raped at the orphanage over three decades until the late 1970s.

"If changes had been made back in the day when we used to tell anybody that would care to listen, action would have been taken back then and the abuse would not have continued on for so long," Mr Allaway said.

Mr Allaway welcomed the new legislation, but said: "We've still got a hell of a fight on our hands.

"What we have to see now is the implementation unless it is implemented, it's just been a waste of energy and time and money."

Senior Catholics apologised in 2015 for the abuse that occurred at Neerkol Orphanage.

The new law is not retrospective.








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