Archbishop hits out at ‘ill-advised’ child abuse laws

Stock image.
Stock image.

THE Catholic Archbishop of Perth has hit out against plans by the State Government to break the seal of confession over child abuse.

The State Government has proposed changes to the Children and Community Services Act 2004 stem from recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

They include mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse being extended to ministers of religion, even if those reports have been made as part of confession.

WA’s mandatory reporting laws currently require doctors, nurses, midwives, police officers, teachers and boarding supervisors to report child sexual abuse to the Department of Communities if they form a belief based on reasonable grounds – during the course of their paid or unpaid work – that a child has been or is the subject of sexual abuse.

Failing to do so can result in a $6000 fine.

A bill that would force Western Australia’s religious leaders to report child sex abuse will be introduced to state parliament.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said he recognised the State Government’s desire to protect children but extending mandatory reporting to ministers of religion was “ill-advised”.

He said a priest had no right to reveal to anyone anything they learnt while hearing confession.

“The enactment of this proposed new legislation does not necessarily equate to the guaranteed future safety of our children and young people,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“Should priests be designated as mandatory reporters of information they gain during the sacrament of penance, the already slim likelihood that a child abuser will come to confession will, to all intents and purposes, be curtailed.

“I encourage the Western Australian Government to think again.”

He said sexual abuse of children and young people was an abhorrent crime wherever, whenever and by whomever it is perpetrated and encouraged anyone with allegations to report them to the police.

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