THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has called for clergy in Australia to have to report instances of child sexual abuse that they have heard of in sacramental confession. The call is one of 85 legislative and policy changes that the Commission has recommended in a report, Criminal Justice, released this week.
In confession, Roman Catholic children had disclosed their sexual abuse, the report says, and clergy had “disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt”.
Although the Commission recognised the “inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths”, and the principle of freedom of religion, the right to freedom of religious practice was not absolute, the Commission said. It must accommodate “civil society’s obligations to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse”.
Roman Catholic leaders have voiced their opposition to any threat to the seal of the confessional. The RC Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Revd Denis Hart, said on Tuesday that he stood by comments made in 2011 that he would be ready to face prison rather than break the seal.
The Anglican Church of Australia has already prepared possible changes to its canon law in the area, in advance of a meeting of the General Synod next month.