In a positive step forward for survivors of abuse in Queensland, the State Government has passed new laws which make it an offence for clergy members to fail to report and fail to protect children from institutional child sexual abuse. In a statement issued by Queensland’s Attorney Minister for Justice, Yvette D’Ath, she confirms “the new laws also clarify that priests will not be able to rely on the seal of confession to avoid the reporting of abuse.
Similar laws were introduced in February this year in Victoria making it mandatory for persons in religious ministry to report suspected child abuse to authorities, even if they formed the belief following a disclosure made during confession. Failing to comply with the Victorian laws carries significant penalties including up to three years in jail.
The new laws in both states were influenced by the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which were handed down in 2015. Disappointingly, some members of the Catholic Church hierarchy still appear to feel as though they are ‘above the law’.
A number of media outlets are reporting comments made by Queensland Bishop, Michael McCarthy, that his priests are bound to keep the seal of confession, even if sexual abuse is discussed.
Resistance from the Church
This comes on the back of comments made at the time of the Victorian Law reforms in February by Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, who stated that he would rather go to jail than break the seal of confession.
Sadly, the two senior priests seemingly have the backing of the Vatican. In January of this year, the Vatican declared via Rescript that changes were being made to the Canon Law to abolish the rule of Pontifical Secrecy.
Pontifical secrecy was essentially a code used by the Church as a way of maintaining a level of secrecy when it came to cases of sexual abuse. The changes in law were aimed at making it easier for documents held by the Vatican to be handed over to lawful authorities when requested. The Vatican disappointingly qualified the changes with a statement that it “obviously does not affect the sacramental seal”, otherwise known as the seal of confession.
We are disappointed that the Catholic Church continues to make statements that demonstrate its belief that canon law is above the law of the land when it comes to reporting child sexual abuse. RCT Law stands with survivors who want to see a change in the Church’s dogged attitude to such an important issue.