Abuse Child Advocacy

Priest: I’d Rather Go to Jail Than Report Child Sexual Abuse

Archbishop's response to mandatory child sex abuse reporting labelled 'pig-headed'.

Australia- Melbourne’s Catholic archbishop insists three years jail is preferable to breaking the seal of confession and reporting child sexual abuse to authorities.

Priests will risk prison if they don’t report child abuse revealed to them during the sacrament of confession, under new laws introduced in Victoria.

The bill, introduced into state parliament would make religious ministers mandatory reporters of abuse suspicions alongside police, teachers, medical practitioners and early childhood workers.

“I don’t think in contemporary and mainstream times, knowing what we know now, that we can do anything other than say the rights of children trump anyone’s religious views,” the attorney general, Jill Hennessy, told reporters.

Ultimately this is about making sure that we start to right the wrongs of systemic abuse.”

Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he’d ask someone who admitted abuse to tell him outside the box but if they refused he would “keep the seal”.

“I hold the principle of mandatory reporting … and I also hold onto the principle of the seal of confession. My own position is that I don’t see that as mutually exclusive,” he told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

The archbishop’s office later released a statement saying the church welcomed the proposed expansion of mandatory reporting to include religious ministers, but denied the seal of confession was an obstacle to mandatory reporting.

“Confession doesn’t place people above the law. Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists’ sources.”

Catholic archbishops in the ACT and South Australia have also vowed to defy similar laws.

Melbourne’s most senior Catholic also revealed he saw disgraced cardinal and convicted child abuser George Pell in prison about two months ago, as he awaits the outcome of his appeal over his conviction for sexual abuse.

“I think he has a sense of waiting, as anything there would be a psychological agitation about waiting for what’s going to be the outcome of the appeal, but I found him strong spiritually and calm and very conversive,” Comensoli said.

Under the proposed Victorian laws, priests and spiritual leaders face up to three years’ jail if they don’t report child physical and sexual abuse allegations.

Archbishop’s response to mandatory child sex abuse reporting labelled ‘pig-headed’.

“I would expect anyone who is aware of a commission of a crime would have the wherewithal and the personal ethics to report that crime,” Hennessy said.

The Andrews Labor government’s reforms would also allow survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the supreme court to overturn “unfair” compensation settlements previously signed with churches.

Chrissie Foster, who with her late husband fought for years for compensation for their two girls who were abused by a Catholic priest, said there was no excuse for priests who failed to report confessions of abuse.

“The Catholic priesthood tried to get away with a basement bargain deal with all of this. They should pay until they can’t stand up,” Foster said.

In the same bill, anyone denied a working-with-children check for serious crimes such as rape and murder would no longer be able to appeal that refusal.

The Blue Knot Foundation, the national centre for excellence in complex trauma, hit out at the Catholic church’s opposition to the law.

“Whatever justification church authorities present to support this stance, the continued suggestion that the Catholic church is above the secular law of the society in which it operates is unfortunate to say the least,” spokeswoman Dr. Pam Stavropoulos said.

Victoria’s Liberal-National opposition has previously indicated it would back a law mandating priests report child abuse allegations.

But party leader Michael O’Brien on Tuesday said he wanted to see the details of the bill.

“I’d like to think that in Victoria in 2019, we can make sure we can protect kids and we should also be able to respect freedom of religion. Let’s see if the government has got that balance right,” he said.

Crossbench MP Fiona Patten welcomed the government’s move, saying “I think that Jesus would mandatory report”.


Source: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/14/victorian-bill-would-compel-priests-to-report-child-abuse-confessions-or-risk-jail . By: Lisa Martin Australian Associated Press. Accessed- September 18, 2019.

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