A new law passed in Queensland will compel members of the clergy to report any cases of child sexual abuses that they know about – even if they have been given this information within the inviolability of the confessional.
The legislation requires that all known or suspected instances must be reported to the police. Priests that fail to do so will face three years in prison.
Confessions regarded as privileged information
Traditionally the ritual of the confessional is regarded by churches, most notably the Catholic Church, as inviolable and the information divulged there is regarded as privileged.
Already concerns have been voiced that the Queensland judiciary could find itself in the difficult situation of being forced to imprison priests or bishops who refuse to obey.
But the state’s police minister, Mark Ryan, said on Tuesday that the new law would better protect vulnerable children.
Everyone has a moral obligation, says minister
“The requirement and, quite frankly, the moral obligation to report concerning behaviours towards children applies to everyone in this community,” he said.
“No one group or occupation is being singled out. Child protection is everyone’s responsibility.”
According to ABC News, the laws apply to information received from now, even if it relates to abuse that occurred in the past.
Bill is a danger to public trust and cohesion
But parliamentary support has not been unanimous.
“The bill poses a real danger for public trust and cohesion in our community,” One Nation MP, Stephen Andrew, said.
“Many priests and bishops have publicly stated that they will go to jail before obeying these laws.
“How confident can the people of Queensland be that they live in a free and open democracy, governed by the rule of law, where the state jails its bishops?” he added.
Catholic Archbishop is an opponent of law
The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, is already on record as opposing the legislation.
“The … legislation would make the priest at this vital point less a servant of God than an agent of the state,” he wrote in a submission.
“Clergy have died because they have refused to submit to the claims of the state and preferred to defend the rights of the penitent before God and the rights of God before the penitent.”
The archbishop added that one of the practical limitations of complying with such legislation was that most penitents gave their confessions anonymously.