Vatican – Australian Royal Commission’s report requires serious study

The Australian Royal Commission’s report into child abuse has made 409 recommendations, 15 of them directed at the Catholic church.

In an initial response to the report, a Vatican Press Office released a statement saying the report is a thorough effort that “deserves to be studied seriously.”

It reiterated the commitment of the Holy See to be close to the Church in Australia as it responds to the sex abuse crisis.

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, offered the bishops’ unconditional apology for the suffering that had been caused.

He gave a commitment to ensuring justice for those affected.

Hart said the bishops would take the royal commission’s recommendations seriously and present them to the Holy See.

He said many of the panel’s recommendations would have a significant impact on the way the Catholic Church operates in Australia.

However, the archbishop took issue with the recommendation that the seal of the confession should not apply to allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse.

He said the seal of confession cannot be broken, even if priests face the prospect of criminal charges for failing to report child sexual abuse.

“I revere the law of the land and I trust it, but this is a sacred spiritual charge before God which I must honour, and I have to respect and try to do what I can with both.”

Hart said if a person confessed “those heinous crimes” to him he would refuse them absolution until they went to the authorities.

He said if a child came to him and told him they had been molested, he would see the conversation move outside the confessional and take them to a parent or teacher to see that the allegations were reported.

Hart said he will make sure bishops pass that recommendation suggesting voluntary celibacy on to the Holy See who will make the decision.

While he said he believed there were benefits to the vow of celibacy, he admitted it was a difficult undertaking.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he stood ready to address systemic issues behind the abuse.

He said he was appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some members of the clergy and ashamed by the response of church leaders.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said there will be no easy dismissal of people’s stories, no sweeping of things under the carpet, no cover-ups.

The recommendations to the Catholic church include:

  • Parish priests are not to be the employers of principals and teachers in Catholic schools.
  • The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law so that the pontifical secret [the seal of confession] does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse.
  • The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to publish criteria for the selection of bishops including relating to the promotion of child safety.
  • The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should establish a transparent process for appointing bishops which includes the direct participation of lay people.
  • The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.
  • All Catholic religious institutes in Australia, in consultation with their international leadership and the Holy See as required, implement measures to address the risks of harm to children and the potential psychological and sexual dysfunction associated with a celibate rule of religious life.
  • This should include consideration of whether and how existing models of religious life could be modified to facilitate alternative forms of association, shorter terms of celibate commitment, and/or voluntary celibacy (where that is consistent with the form of association that has been chosen.
  • The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and all Catholic religious institutes in Australia should further develop, regularly evaluate and continually improve their processes for selecting, screening and training of candidates for the clergy and religious life, and their processes of ongoing formation, support and supervision of clergy and religious.
  • The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious of Australia should establish a national protocol for screening candidates before and during seminary and religious formation, as well as before ordination and the profession of religious vows.


  • Click here to read all 15 recommendations made to the Catholic Church
  • Click here to go to the Commission’s Official Website
  • Click here for the full report
  • Listen to Fr Neil Vaney talking on Sunday Morning about seal of confession


Additional reading

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