Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop has made a formal submission opposing the State Government’s plan to make priests report child sex offences revealed in the confessional.
Archbishop Coleridge said breaking the seal had practical limits.
Queensland drafted the proposed Child Sexual Offences Reform Bill after the royal commission recommended changes to the secrecy rules
The bill is being considered by the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee
Archbishop Mark Coleridge said while the church was unequivocally committed to the protection of children, breaking the confessional seal would “not make a difference to the safety of young people”.
Agent of the State
“The proposed legislation would make the priest at this vital point less a servant of God than an agent of the state,” he wrote.
“Clergy have died because they have refused to submit to the claims of the state and preferred to defend the rights of the penitent before God and the rights of God before the penitent.
“It is claimed at times that the seal must be abolished in law because it is the linchpin of a culture of secrecy and cover-up.
“The Church rejects such a claim, insisting that the seal is the guarantee of a culture of true disclosure which is the opposite of cover-up.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended the change to secrecy rules, leading to Queensland’s drafting of the proposed Child Sexual Offences Reform Bill.
It is being considered by the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee before being returned to parliament for a vote.
Archbishop Coleridge said breaking the seal had practical limits, as most confessions were anonymous.
Furthermore, a perpetrator or victim might be less likely to raise abuse in confession if confidence in the sacramental seal was undermined.
“The seal recognises the right of the sinful human being to approach God in complete freedom,” he wrote.
“It enables the penitent to speak openly before God … to hide nothing from the God who sees all and forgives all.”
The Catholic Archbishop’s submission is in contrast to the Anglican church, which stated: “… the General Synod of the Anglican Church has passed legislation which, in effect, allows clergy to comply with mandatory reporting laws relating to child sexual abuse or avoid committing a failure to report offence without breaching Church laws regarding confession.”
In the submission, signed off by Anglican Church Southern Queensland (ACSQ) General Manager Tim Reid, the church went on to state: “there is no impediment in Anglican Church law in force in this diocese to any licensed member of the clergy in ACSQ being able to report information about a child sex offence gained during a confession.”
The Queensland’s Human Rights Commission also made a submission, which argued religion should not be above the law.
“The Commission is of the view that non-exemption of religious confession, while limiting the right to freedom of religion, is ‘demonstrably justified’.”