Peter Comensoli: Violating sanctity of the confessional would be a betrayal of trust

What is worth protecting and fighting for? The answer to that question is straightforward: our children.

Of this, there is no doubt.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse cast a much-needed light on the failures of many institutions across Australia, including government and church institutions, and most prominently my own church.

It grieves me daily to know that young, and now adult lives, have been devastated and destroyed through multiple failures by the Catholic Church.

We failed to hear, to believe, and to act on credible information regarding child sexual abuse.

There is no stepping aside from this fact, and it drives my ongoing commitment to personally do everything in my power to create and maintain safe environments for children in our schools and parishes.

  • I share the concern of our civic leaders that religious leaders like myself follow the laws of our land.
  • I support religious ministers holding mandatory reporting responsibilities, a change the Catholic Church proposed in 2013.
  • I have committed the Archdiocese of Melbourne to organisational and cultural change.

We have policies, procedures and processes to achieve compliance with the Child Safe Standards; we are providing reports to the Commission for Children and Young People under the Reportable Conduct Scheme; we offer professional development of leaders and workers; we ensure accreditation of those involved in child related employment, and train our clergy and people in constant improvement in building a culture that recognises, respects and defends the rights of children and young people.

Alongside this commitment I will also uphold the Seal of Confession.

I recognise that many people find it hard to understand, or relate, to the importance of Confession in the lives of many Christians.

Even some Catholics who haven’t “called in” for a long time only remember aspects of what it was once like.

So why, when faced with Victoria’s proposed new laws on mandatory reporting of child abuse, which would include information revealed in Confession, would any reasonable Catholic person, or any person for that matter, express concern?

Violating the Seal of Confession does not address any reform needed to protect children from abuse in institutions and other contexts, which is the fundamental point of the royal commission.

We learned a great deal from that work, including the need for ongoing supervision of those who work with children, regular review of relevant policies, transparency and accreditation for religious ministers, none of which are addressed by removing the Seal of Confession.

Let me name some of my other deep concerns with the current draft of the bill. Continue reading

  • Image: The Age
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