ROMAN CATHOLIC bishops in Australia have rejected a call from a Royal Commission to break the seal of confession in relation to child sexual abuse.
Releasing the Australian Catholic Bishops’ response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Brisbane, the Rt Revd Mark Coleridge, said that breaking the seal would restrict religious freedom. Breaking the seal might even make children “less safe”, he said.
Abusers might be less likely to admit abuse in the confessional, meaning “an opportunity would be lost to encourage a perpetrator to self-report to civil authorities, or victims to seek safety”, the report said.
Archbishop Coleridge said that the Church believed that the safety of children was supremely important, and pledged full accountability in future. The Church was also seeking advice on making child sexual abuse a canonical crime instead of a “moral failing”.
The Church’s stance could potentially expose priests to criminal charges, because states and territories in Australia are all likely to implement the Royal Commission recommendation through mandatory reporting laws.
The Australian Capital Territory will require clergy to report admissions of child sexual abuse next year, while South Australia will introduce mandatory reporting laws next month. Other states are believed to be moving in the same direction.
On the Royal Commission’s recommendation that clergy celibacy be made voluntary, Archbishop Coleridge said that, while the change was theoretically possible, it was a decision for the universal Church.