Canberra, Catholic church on collision course over child abuse confessions

The Australian Catholic Church and the government seem to be on a collusion course with the church saying it would not allow evidence heard in confessionals to be reported in cases involving paedophiles, agencies report.

The church’s adamant stand comes as a surprise since Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has recommended prosecution of priests who do not report evidence of paedophilia heard in confessionals.

The church said priests should not be forced to report such evidence as confessionals are a non-negotiable element of religious life.

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

The seal of confession embodies an understanding of the believer and God. This does not mean Catholic priests are above law or the church is not concerned about the safety of children, Coleridge said.

Such a view may come as an embarrassment to the government since one state and a territory have already introduced laws to make non-reporting of evidence in confessional a crime.

The government is under pressure to introduce the law in other states too to deal with increasing number of cover-ups within Church hierarchy to shield abuse of children as in the cases of the two altar boys by priest James Fletcher in a church north of Sydney during the 1970s.

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was recently found guilty by a court of failing to report the matter to police and shielding the paedophile priest. He is under house arrest.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, a top aide to Pope Francis, is facing trial on sexual abuse charges.

These are not isolated cases.

The Royal Commission had interviewed some 15,000 survivors of child abuse in Australia’s Catholic churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools over 90 years and recently submitted a report to the government with recommendations to check the menace.

The Catholic Religious Australia accepted most of the recommendations and called the inquiry an important and necessary period for the Australian community.

Sister Monica Cavanagh, president of Catholic Religious Australia, said the group is committed to make the church safer for children and vulnerable persons.