The Church is set to defy new laws in Victoria that would punish priests with jail time if they refuse to report sexual abuse revealed during confession.
The Victorian Government will today introduce legislation aimed at forcing priests to break the seal of confession to report child abuse.
The Church says that it supports mandatory reporting and encourages victims to report abuse to police, but will not break the seal of confession – regardless of the legislation.
‘I uphold the seal of confession but I uphold mandatory reporting as well,’ Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli said in August last year, when the government first flagged this legal change.
‘The principle of the seal of confession is a different question. It has a different reality to it. The practicalities of winding back the seal of confession I think is something that can’t be easily done.’
‘There’s been no change in our position,’ a spokesman for the Melbourne Archdiocese said yesterday, adding that it would wait to see the legislation before commenting further.
In March this year Pope Francis said no laws could break the seal of confession, in which all priests must keep secret from everyone what they hear in the confessional.
‘The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has, nor may it claim, jurisdiction over it,’ he said.
Priests who refuse to report sexual abuse disclosed during confession will face up to three years in jail under the new laws. The laws will apply to religious and spiritual leaders of all denominations and religions, but will not be retrospective.
Victoria’s move comes a fortnight after Tasmania passed similar legislation. The ACT also recently passed a similar bill, set to take effect from September 1. Under an South Australian law that took effect in October 2018, clergy are legally obliged to report confessions of child sex abuse or face a $10,000 fine.