Victorian priests to face jail time for failing to report abuse from the confessional, Labor pledges
Clergy will face up to three years in prison in Victoria for failing to report abuse revealed in the confessional, with the Andrews Government promising to change laws if it wins the November election.
The policy decision means that regardless of who wins the state poll, the exemption for religious confessionals from the law will be scrapped, with the Coalition committing to reform last month.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that states introduce laws to make it a criminal offence to fail to disclose abuse revealed in the confessional.
Premier Daniel Andrews, a Catholic, personally informed the new Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli in recent weeks of Labor's position.
Minister for Children Jenny Mikakos told the ABC that Labor would end the "special treatment" for religious groups to exempt them from mandatory reporting in the confessional.
She said the safety and protection of children had to be the priority.
"We've heard perpetrators disclosing their guilt of committing child abuse offences during a confession and there were absolutely no consequences," Ms Mikakos said.
She said Labor would change the Children, Youth and Families Act to make it mandatory to report information about child abuse or harm disclosed during confession to child protection authorities.
"The safety of children is our highest priority and our biggest responsibility — people in religious ministry are not exempt from this,'' Ms Mikakos said.
"There is no excuse for anyone who works with kids to not report abuse."
Currently teachers, school principals, doctors, nurses and police officers who believe a child is being abused or harmed are required to report to authorities and failing to do so is a criminal offence.
In the coming months Labor will also extend mandatory reporting laws to include psychologists, school counsellors and professionals in youth justice, early childhood and out-of-home care sectors, fulfilling royal commission recommendations.
Priests will also have to report any abuse revealed, regardless of where the information is gathered.
"We are ending the special treatment that applies to ministers of religion, we are going to make sure that ministers of religion in the future are subject to mandatory reporting laws,'' Ms Mikakos said.
Labor will also amend the Crime Act to remove the exemption for religious confessionals.
Two of Chrissie Foster's daughters were abused by a Catholic priest and the tireless and fierce advocate said she was "over the moon" about the change.
"It shouldn't be there in the first place, this is a foreign state's law overriding our civil law, which is there to protect children, it shouldn't have any say at all," she said.
Ms Foster also said it was an important step to take power away from the church.
She pointed to the case of a Queensland priest who had confessed more than 1,000 times to dozens of priests about his abuse of children.
"They all said to him, in the face to face confessions, to go home and pray. There was no telling him to get some help or hand himself in,'' Ms Foster said.
The Andrews Government was criticised earlier this year when it did not automatically adopt the commission's recommendation to crackdown on the confessional.
Labor said it was looking at a national approach but it never ruled out acting independently.
Just last week the Catholic Church formally rejected the royal commission's recommendation to break the seal of the confessional because it would impinge on religious freedom.
Archbishop Comensoli told the ABC that the church welcomed the extension of mandatory reporting to priests, but maintained the seal of confessional could not be broken.
"The keeping of the seal in fact might in real ways enhance the safety of children not put them at further risk," he said.
He explained that this was because of the anonymity the confessional offered to children.
"The breaking of the seal is not likely to lead to child safety, it's more symbolic than a practical solution," he said.
Last month, Nationals leader Peter Walsh said the Coalition would change the law if it won the election.
"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 in August.
- Clergy members who learn about child abuse in the confessional will face up to three years prison, under changes proposed by the Andrews Government
- Priests and clergy members are currently exempt from mandatory reporting laws
- The Coalition committed committed to changing the law last month
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