The Catholic Church in Australia on Friday rejected the idea of forcing priests by law to report child abuse when they hear about it in the confessional. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said breaking the seal of confession was “contrary to our faith and inimical to religious liberty”, BBC reported.
A report on the Church’s handling of child abuse, submitted to the Australian government in December 2017, had recommended a law against priests withholding information about such cases. Two of Australia’s states and territories have already introduced such legislation, and others are considering, Reuters reported.
“This proposed law is ill-conceived, and impracticable, it won’t make children safer, and it will most likely undermine religious freedom,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Mark Coleridge said in Sydney on Friday. He said the seal of confession is “a non-negotiable element of our religious life and embodies an understanding of the believer and God”.
This comes as the church faces allegations of cover-up of child sexual abuse in several countries. Last week, Pope Francis said in Ireland that he was ashamed of the Catholic Church’s failure to address the cases of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. He had earlier apologised for “grave mistakes” he said he had made in the handling of cases of child sex abuse in Chile.
The 17-volume document, prepared after five years of investigation, was the final report after three other reports were submitted in the past with shocking findings and over 200 recommendations. It was prepared by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
The report had recommended that the Vatican make celibacy voluntary for priests as the mandatory requirement contributes to child abuse. Over 60% of the victims of child abuse in religious institutions were molested in a Catholic organisation, the report said, making over 189 new recommendations for the government and organisations to keep children safe. Twenty of the recommendations included the Church’s involvement.
The report detailed accounts alleging cover-ups of abuse in the Australian Catholic Church, including allegations that suspected priests were moved between parishes to avoid detection of their crime.
The investigation found “multiple and persistent failings of institutions to keep children safe, the cultures of secrecy and cover-up, and the devastating affects child sexual abuse can have on an individual’s life”, the commission said.
Malcolm Turnbull, who was the prime minister when the report was released, said it had “exposed a national tragedy”. He had said his government would consider the recommendations over the coming year.