Victoria Premier lashes Archbishop over Catholic confession claims

Australian state premier Daniel Andrews, is lashing out at the Catholic Church over claims it was not consulted about proposed laws forcing priests to report child abuse disclosed in confessionals.

The Victorian Premier, a practicing Catholic, says Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli is wrong to compare priests refusing to disclose allegations heard during confession to confidentiality between journalists and their sources or lawyers and their clients.

“I don’t accept that comparison at all…” Andrews says.

Despite Andrews’s protests, Comensoli says the Catholic community has “not been afforded the opportunity to view and provide comment on the draft bill prior to its public release”.

Under laws introduced to parliament on 14 August priests can be jailed for up to three years if they flout the mandatory reporting rules. These rules currently apply to professions including teachers, medical practitioners and police.

Comensoli says while he supports mandatory reporting, he is prepared to go to jail rather than break the confessional seal.

“Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality,” he says.

“Confession doesn’t place people above the law. Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists’ sources.”

Victoria’s Liberal-National opposition went to the election with a similar policy, which they are currently reviewing.

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien says while he expects everyone including members of the church to obey state laws and that child safety is paramount, he also is concerned about religious freedom.

“What I do want to see though, is have the laws that are proposed been drafted in a way which achieves that end, and do they not unnecessarily go and infringe on other religious freedoms.”

Andrews has attacked O’Brien for what he calls a “disgraceful” about-turn.

“No religion, no church, no person, no priest, no politician is free to do anything other than put the safety of our kids first,” Andrews says.

“This was his [O’Brien’s] policy, for heaven’s sake, only a few months ago.”

Clergy are already subject to mandatory reporting laws in South Australia and the Northern Territory, while Western Australia and Tasmania have announced plans to compel religious leaders to disclose knowledge of abuse.

Victoria’s reforms will also allow survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the Supreme Court to overturn “unfair” compensation settlements previously signed with churches.

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