Australian state governments increasing pressure on church to report child abuse

The Catholic Church in Australia on Friday rejected a recommendation by a government inquiry that priests be required to report evidence of child sex abuse disclosed in the confessional.

The recommendation that priests be prosecuted for failing to report evidence of pedophilia heard in the confessional was a key finding in December of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Australia’s longest-running royal commission — which is the country’s highest form of inquiry — had been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Mark Coleridge said breaking the seal of the confessional would not make children safer.

“Australian priests and the lay faithful are deeply committed to both child safety and the seal of confession, which we hold to be inviolable,” Coleridge told reporters.

“This isn’t because we regard ourselves as being above the law, or because we don’t think the safety of children is supremely important — we do. But we don’t accept that safeguarding and the seal are mutually exclusive,” he added.

Australian state governments are increasing pressure on the church to report child abuse and are legislating to prosecute priests who maintain that revelations of pedophilia made in the confessional cannot be disclosed.

Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson was sentenced earlier in August to 12 months in home detention after becoming the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of covering up children sex abuse.

The seal of the confession was not at issue in his case. Rather, Wilson testified that he did not recall ever hearing allegations against a pedophile priest and therefore could not have acted to protect the boys who were abused.

Catholicism is the largest denomination in majority-Christian Australia.

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