Legislation was introduced Wednesday the 14th that would make reporting child sexual abuse mandatory for all faiths. Police, teachers, doctors, nurses, school counselors, childcare and youth justice workers have all been under mandatory requirements to report for some time, and in 2012 priests and spiritual leaders were added to that list, but there was a caveat for admissions made during confession. The new legislature includes amendments to close that loophole and force reporting, even in the case of confession within the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourn has said that he was personally willing to accept the possible sentence of three years in prison rather than violate the seal of confession.
“For Catholics, Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality." When asked by ABC radio if he would report child sexual abuse made during confession to authorities, Archbishop Comensoli said, "Personally, I would keep the seal." He also said that he was personally prepared to go to jail in defiance of the new legislation.
He's also said that he is in favor of Priests being mandatory reporters, but said that they should be protected "in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists’ sources," said Archbiship Comensoli. His answer is that he said he would counsel the person on what steps they needed to take individual in reporting to law enforcement, and even attempt to have the individual repeat what was said outside of the confessional so that he would be able to act.
In March of this year, Pope Francis issued a statement saying that no legislation could break the seal of confession. “The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has, nor may it claim, jurisdiction over it,” he said.
Archbishop Comensoli is not the first church authority to stand in opposition to mandatory reporting requirements. In 2017, former Archbishop Denis Hart said he would rather face jail than to report an incident of child abuse reported during confession.
The proposed legislation will apply to all spiritual and religious leaders without exception but not be retrospective. In order to take effect, the bill will need to pass both houses of the Victorian Parliament.