Year of Youth 2018

New Laws Challenge Seal of the Confessional

Last edited 7th June 2018

New Laws Challenge Seal of the Confessional

All three parties in the ACT Legislative Assembly supported the bill to extend the mandatory reporting scheme to cover churches - and the confessional - although three Liberal politicians spoke out about their concerns.

Andrew Wall, said the inclusion of some religious organisations in the reportable conduct scheme was "overdue".

However Mr Wall said breaking the seal of confessional would fundamentally change the practice, and "significantly impinges on an individual's freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of religious rights".

Vicki Dunne, who is a Catholic, said breaking the seal meant automatic ex-communication for priests and would undermine trust in the "sacred, sacramental and sacrosanct" rite.

"We need to stop and think twice before we pass legislation that requires Catholic priests to break the seal of confession," Mrs Dunne said. "That’s Why Father (Frank) Brennan said he would rather break law than seal of confession."

Elizabeth Kikkert, who is a Morman, said while she was committed to the protection of children, and her public record on that issue made that "abundantly clear", the confessional clause should be delayed until COAG made a decision.

The new laws will require religious organisations' "activities, facilities, programs or services" to report allegations, offences or convictions related to children to the ACT Ombudsman within 30 days and launch an investigation from July 1.

The clause around the confessional won't apply until March 31, 2019, so the government and the clergy can determine how the laws will work.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse yesterday wrote an opinion piece in The Canberra Times, reiterating the Church’s pro-active commitment to co-operating with the reporting laws, but calling for the seal of the confessional not to be included in the legislation.

"Sadly, breaking the sacred seal of confession won’t prevent abuse and it won’t help our ongoing efforts to improve the safety of children in Catholic institutions," Archbishop Prowse wrote.

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