Are priests legally obliged to report sexual abuse confessions

Published 17 Oct 2018

The topic of sexual assault in the church continues to fill the pages of news publications around Australia.  In recent weeks, the subject has reached new heights in the wake of recent responses to the amended law surrounding reporting child abuse heard in confessional.

But what exactly does the new law propose, and why are some members of the Catholic Church against the changes?

The ever-controversial number 7.4

In December 2017, after reviewing more than 8,000 testimonies about abuse, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report. The report included more than 400 recommendations targeted at government and other institutional sectors, including the Catholic Church. While the church agreed with 98 per cent of proposed recommendations, one that sparked debate is recommendation 7.4, which states:

Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge or suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.

The reasons for their objection? The Catholic Church believes breaking the seal of confession will not keep children safer and is contrary to faith and inimical to religious liberty.

Despite their thoughts on the matter, the new legislation is set to enroll on October 1, which states that priests are legally obliged to report any confessions of child sex abuse.

How have priests reacted to the changes?

South Australia will become the first state to legally enforce breaking the seal of confessional in order to report child sexual abuse. However, instead of adhering to such laws, the South Australia Catholic Church have caused controversy by stating that they would rather go to jail than break the seal.

According to Canon (church) Law, any priest that violates the seal of confessional faces the risk of excommunication. Furthermore, the Law also states that anyone else hears someone confessing to child sexual abuse is also obliged to preserve the seal.

However, under the new legislation, not reporting abuse will carry a maximum fine of $10,000 and could even incur further criminal charges such as five-years jail time.

If you've suffered as a result of sexual assault, don't be scared to come forward. While no amount of money can take away the trauma you've suffered, you're entitled to receive compensation for damages. Get in touch with our sensitive and expert team at Gerard Malouf & Partners to see how we can help you submit a claim.