No Exception: Mandatory Reporting over the Seal of Confession
By Adam Varoqua
Over the past few months, the average person has been no stranger to the ongoing child sex abuse scandals facing the Catholic Church.
One such place where this abuse is occurring is in Tasmania. There, child sex abuse allegations have spurred a new potential legislative measure that would force those in certain occupations who know about child sex abuse allegations to report them immediately, as The Australian reports.
This legislation would require priests to break “the seal of confession,” when people confess to priests about intimate aspects of their lives. Normally, these confessions are given a special privilege where the content of what was spoken cannot be made known to others. This legislation would end that privilege if a person reveals they were a victim of abuse or the perpetrator behind it.
This new legislative action does not apply only to priests but also other occupational settings, like teachers and nurses. The Catholic Church, however, has not taken kindly to this new measure. Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, said, “By removing the seal, we lose the rare opportunity to point an offender or victim in the direction of the authorities and other assistance.”
The penalty would be severe if no reports are filed within 30 days, as the Catholic News Agency reports. Priests and other professionals would be sentenced to jail if found guilty of concealing suspected child abuse, but this legislation is just what is needed to respond to this horrific and ongoing situation. As the Minister for Justice Elise Archer said to The Australian in a separate article, “There is no excuse for failure to report the horrific abuse of children, least of all for institutions who have been named in the royal commission as failing to prevent child abuse in the past.”
The Catholic Church has an unfortunate history of hiding sex abuse reports and protecting perpetrators, as documents The New York Times. It is not hard to imagine that many people have lost trust in the Church to handle these matters with the importance and responsibility that it deserves. For the government of Tasmania to step forward and get rid of these exemptions enables investigations to begin and provides a valuable tool against child sex abuse. This measure would also not be new to Australia as South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have abolished confession exemptions as well.
When an institution not only fails to check itself but actively suppresses wrongdoings allegedly committed by their members, it requires a responsible government to take action. This new measure will help sex abuse victims find justice and will expose perpetrators. To prevent child sex abuse and advocate for victims takes communal responsibility. As Ms. Archer said, “It is important that all members of the community take responsibility for heinous crimes committed in the past and to make sure these serious crimes never happen again.”