Queensland’s new law says priests must break confessional seal

A new law in Queensland says priests must break the confessional seal to report child sex abuse to police. If they don’t comply, they could face three years in jail.

Echoing recommendations from Australia’s Royal Commission Into Child Sexual Abuse, Queensland’s Parliament passed the new law on Tuesday.

Australia’s Catholic leaders have always vowed to maintain the seal of confession even if it resulted in them facing criminal charges.

Support for their stance was underlined in a note approved by Pope Francis and published by the Vatican in mid-2019. In it, the Apostolic Penitentiary affirmed the absolute secrecy of everything said in confession.

The Penitentiary called on priests to defend it at all costs, even at the cost of their lives.

This is because the “priest … comes to know of the sins of the penitent ‘non ut homo sed ut Deus’ — not as a man, but as God — to the point that he simply ‘does not know’ what was said in the confessional because he did not listen as a man, but precisely in the name of God,” the note says.

“A confessor’s defense of the sacramental seal, if necessary, even to the point of shedding blood, is not only an obligatory act of allegiance to the penitent but is much more: it is a necessary witness — a martyrdom — to the unique and universal saving power of Christ and his church.”

Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville reiterated the Church’s view on Tuesday, tweeting “Catholic priests cannot break the seal of confession.”

The new legislation will have a flow-on effect which will upset privacy rules for other professions says Stephen Andrew.

The Queensland One Nation politician says the new law will “set a dangerous precedent which may be relied on in the future to remove or restrict other forms of professional privilege.”

It will eventually see journalists compelled to give up their sources and doctors, psychologists and lawyers required to report their clients if they have evidence indicating they had abused a child, he says.

“Any anti-discrimination lawyer in the country will now be able to legitimately argue ‘why should these other professions have the right to protect their sources when they, in effect, serve to protect criminals.’

“At stake here is not just freedom of religion but all rights to legal privilege, freedom of the press and confidentiality provisions.”

The state’s teachers, doctors, nurses, childcare workers and school principals already have to report crimes against children to authorities.

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