Abuse royal commission recommends changes to confession rules

Abuse royal commission recommends changes to confession rules”

Catholic clerics should face criminal charges if they do not report sexual abuse disclosed to them during confession, an Australian inquiry recommended on Monday.

Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse - the nation's highest form of inquiry - recommended that all states and territories in Australia introduce legislation which would make it a criminal offence for people to fail to report child sexual abuse in an institutional setting.

Outside Australia courts around the world have grappled with whether religious confession should be privileged.

The commission says the importance of protecting children from sexual abuse means there should be no exemption for clergy over information received during a religious confession, despite the Catholic Church believing the confessional seal must not be violated. "Outside of this all offences against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so", said Hart in a statement.

If such a law was actually imposed in Australia, priests would ostensibly have to choose between following criminal law or canon law, which forbids them from revealing anything they hear during confession.

He said should Australia's parliaments change the law, priests would be expected to obey the law, like everybody else, or suffer the consequences.

The CEO of the Australian Catholic Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, said the seal of confession is one of the universal laws of the church.

It said the commission had heard evidence of multiple cases where abuse was disclosed in confession, both by victims and perpetrators.

He said that while the Church and the TJHC had consistently argued that reporting provisions should not apply to the confessional, the Royal Commission had now made a different determination based on information and evidence it has heard over the past four years.

"The risk to children of perpetrators of child sexual abuse going unchecked, or religious confession enabling a pattern of ongoing offending, is not displaced by the uncertain gain of perpetrators receiving guidance or possibly being persuaded to report to the authorities in religious confession". The right to practise one's religious beliefs must accommodate civil society's obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children's safety from sexual abuse. However, it remains possible that information about child sexual abuse held by people associated with a relevant institution is communicated to a priest hearing a religious confession. How that law has been applied since then, though, is unclear; Australia's Royal Commission noted in its report that the issue has yet to be tested in Ireland's courts.

The commission wants all jurisdictions to have a failure to protect crime, given evidence that perpetrators continued to abuse children after being moved between the institution's schools or other sites following allegations.

"The criminal justice system is often seen as not being effective in responding to crimes of sexual violence, including child sexual abuse", the report said.

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