by Jules Gomes, Church Militant:
Priests who fail to report child abuse revealed in the confessional will be jailed, according to a new law passed by the government of Victoria on Tuesday.
The Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019 carries a sentence of up to three years for a priest who fails to break the seal of confession in the case of a child abuser.
The Australian law begins by categorically stating that its “main purposes” are “to include persons in religious ministry as mandatory reporters under that Act” and “to clarify that a mandatory reporter is not able to rely on the religious confession privilege” to avoid the reporting requirement in previous legislation.
Under Victorian law, mandated reporters must report child abuse if, in the course of practicing their profession, they hold a reasonable belief a child has been harmed or is of significant risk of harm. The harm includes physical or sexual abuse.
The new legislation abrogates the Crimes Act 1958 and the Evidence Act 2008 ending the exemption given to clergy under the “religious confessions privilege.”
“We promised to put the safety of children ahead of the secrecy of the confession and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Attorney General Jill Hennessy asserted, adding, “I don’t think in contemporary and mainstream times, knowing what we know now, that we can do anything other than say the rights of children trump anyone’s religious views.”
Law professor and legal commentator Andrew Tettenborn described the legislation as “pretty alarming and unenforceable.”