Laws requiring priests to break the seal of confession passed

Laws requiring Catholic priests to break the seal of confession in some cases have been passed by the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly in Canberra.

The new laws expand the Reportable Conduct Scheme governing allegations of child abuse and misconduct to include religious organisations.

The legislation makes it illegal for priests to fail to report the confession of a child sexual abuse crime.

The confession provision will take effect from 31 March, 2019.

Religious groups and their “activities, facilities, programmes or services” will also be required to report any allegations, offences or convictions of child abuse within 30 days.

Although the legislation has been passed without amendment, the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn has nine months to negotiate with the government about how it will work before the start of reportable conduct requirements.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn said while he supports efforts to protect children, “breaking the sacred seal of Confession won’t prevent abuse”.

He says abusers would be unlikely to confess their crimes if “if they thought they would be reported”.

He doesn’t think the new laws will improve the safety of children in Catholic organisations either.

“The government threatens religious freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement in the safety of children,” he said.

“Priests are bound by a sacred vow to maintain the seal of confession” and “without that vow, who would be willing to unburden themselves of their sins?”


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