The Catholic Church’s decision not to lift the seal of confession on abuse allegations means it will “continue to fail to act” on such accusations, abuse survivor advocates say.
The Australian Catholic Church said on Friday it would accept, accept in principle or support 98 per cent of the Royal Commission’s 26 recommendations directly relating to the church.
But Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said it rejected the advice of its own Truth Justice and Healing Council in refusing to support reporting abuse allegations heard in the confessional.
Maitland pastor Bob Cotton and Maurice Blackburn National Head of Abuse Law, Michelle James both said the church’s response was disappointing but unsurprising.
“They’ve clearly declared that they’re not going to abide by the law,” pastor Cotton said. “No institution should be above the law, the bible teaches you are meant to obey the law of the land.
“They want to maintain the status quo, the policies and procedures they have adopted are just window dressing.”
Ms James said abuse survivors deserved “much better”.
“The Catholic Church have shown clearly that they will not act on this important measure themselves, despite the Royal Commission making serious recommendations about the need for abuse revealed as part of the confessional to be made part of mandatory reporting processes,” she said.
Pastor Cotton said while he didn’t believe pedophiles would commonly use the confessional to reveal their crimes, the concept gave those who concealed abuse something to hide behind.
He said the response showed a need for greater punishment for concealing child sex abuse – a law he has started a petition to change.
“The hierachy of the church has shown they can’t be trusted with this,” pastor Cotton said. “If the church won’t act itself then the legislation has to do it for them.”
Ms James urged the states to create legislation ensuring abuse allegations raised in confession were reported.
“The Catholic Church must be called out on this, and if they continue to fail to act – which they almost certainly will – then states must be prepared to step in,” Ms James said. “This is also critical in sending a strong message that if church staff choose to prioritise canon law over the laws of the state to protect children then they must be willing to face the consequences.”