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Catholic priests to be forced to report abuse revealed in confession under Victorian Opposition plan

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14th August 2018  |  Richard Willingham  |  ABC News

 

Child sexual abuse revealed in confession would have to be reported to police and could be used as evidence if the Coalition wins Victoria's state election, the Opposition's most senior Catholic MP has announced.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse last year recommended that states introduce laws to make it a criminal offence to fail to disclose abuse revealed in the confessional.

The Andrews Government has not ruled it out, but said it wanted to first examine a uniform national approach.

Nationals Leader Peter Walsh told the ABC a Coalition Victorian government would change the law to allow information given in the confessional to be used as evidence and make it an offence to conceal abuse that was revealed in the confessional.

"Most of the people in the street, people that would be standing around talking about these issues, they believe the rights of children, the protection of children, should be sacrosanct," Mr Walsh said.

"It is simple from a legislative point of view, it obviously changes hundreds of years of precedent, but if you go back to first principles that it is about the safety of children it's a no brainer, it just needs to be done."

Mr Walsh said legislators had a responsibility to act on the evidence from the royal commission and the preceding Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse.

"We do make the laws, and I think people expect us to follow through on those recommendations out of the royal commission.''

When the Andrews Government announced it was examining a national approach, many survivor groups were angry Victoria was not taking a leading stance on the issue.

However the ABC understands there is strong support for change within the Labor Government, but a decision has yet to be made.

'Church law doesn't trump civil law'

Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters Emma and Katie were raped by their local priest, said the law needed to be changed.

Ms Foster said the church had failed to use its own canon law to protect children or defrock abusive priests who had confessed to crimes in the confessional.

"My family has been suffering for 30 years because they didn't invoke canon law or any other laws," she said.

"It's like the local footy club rules — why should that trump our civil laws that are there to protect our children? We can do without such lawlessness.

"They have had their chance and chose to fail by protecting themselves instead of children."

When the royal commission made its recommendation to remove the protection of the confessional there was strong pushback from the Catholic Church.

Last year the then archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, told ABC Radio Melbourne he would go to prison rather than give up information from a confession.

"I've said that I would [go to jail]. I believe that this is an absolutely sacrosanct communication of a higher order," he said at the time.

"I would go to extreme lengths outside of the confessional to make sure that the law was observed.

"But there are some matters which are of a higher order, things to do with God."

 

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