A new Law passed in Queensland now compels Priests to break the seal of confession to report child sexual abuse or face three years in jail.
This legislation passed on 8th September requires priests to violate the seal of confession to report known or suspected child sex abuse to authourities
The law passed the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, with the support of the opposition Liberal National Party of Queensland.
Seal of confession
The seal of confession is the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything that they learn from penitents during the course of confession
Even where the seal of confession does not strictly apply, priests have a serious obligation not to cause scandal by the way they speak.
According to Roman Catholic canon Law
“The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”
The confessor is always an ordained priest, because in the Catholic Church only ordained priests can absolve sins
Any person who overhears a confession is equally bound by the seal
What this new law means
The legislation means religious institutions members can no longer use the sanctity of confessional as a defense in cases of child sex abuse.
Police Minister Mark Ryan said the laws would ensure better protection for vulnerable children.
The requirement and quite frankly the moral obligation to report concerning behaviors towards children applies to everyone everyone in this community
No one group or occupation is being singled out
Child protection is everyone’s responsibility
The laws apply to information received from now, even if it relates to abuse that occurred in the past.
REACTIONS TO THE NEW LAW
“They will go to jail before obeying”
But One Nation MP Stephen Andrew said it set a dangerous precedent for religious leaders.
“The bill poses a real danger for public trust and cohesion in our community,”
Mr Andrew said.
“Many priests and bishops have publicly stated that they will go to jail before obeying these laws.
“How confident can the people of Queensland be that they live in a free and open democracy governed by the rule of law, where the state jails its bishops?”
Earlier this year, Brisbane Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge told the ABC he believed breaking the confessional seal would
not make a difference to the safety of young people.
Hetty Johnston from the child protection group Brave Hearts expressed her support for the new laws.
“I don’t think there is enough jail time in the world that would replace a child’s innocence, what sort of punishment is suitable for someone who would allow that to happen”, she asks?
“So I don’t know that it’s about time, it’s about morality.”
HOW THE CHURCH IS TAKING IT
According to the Catholic News Agency, last week the Australian Bishops provided the Federal Government with the Holy See’s observations on 12 recommendations of a 2017 report on child sex abuse in the country’s institutions.
In response to a recommendation regarding the seal of confession and absolution, The Holy See told Australia’s bishops earlier this year that the seal of confession is inviolable, and that it includes all the sins known from the confession, both of the penitent and others.
By this, The Holy See reiterated the inviolability of the seal and that absolution cannot be conditioned on future actions in the external forum.
Other Territory that have similar legislation
Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have also adopted laws forcing priests to violate the confessional seal, while New South Wales and Western Australia have upheld it.
Attorneys General in Australia’s Federal and State Governments agreed in November 2019 on
“reporting standards that would require priests to break the sacramental seal or violate Australia’s mandatory abuse reporting rules”.
Further, priests would not be able to use the defense of privileged communications in the confessional seal to avoid giving evidence against a third party in criminal or civil proceedings.
Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane commented Sept. 4 that Australia’s bishops
“are keen to support the ongoing public conversation about policies, practices and protocols which will ensure that children and other people at risk are safe in our communities.”