Royal Commission Recommendations Focus on Religious Confessions
15 August 2017 at 8:09 am
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released widespread recommendations on changes to the Australian criminal justice system including changes focused on information of abuse revealed in religious confessions.
The report recommended making failure to report child sexual abuse in institutions a criminal offence.
This recommendation extended to information given in religious confessions, with the report stating clergy should not be able to refuse to report because the information was received during confession.
Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council said that while the church and the TJHC had consistently argued that these reporting provisions should not apply to the confessional, the royal commission has now made a different determination based on information and evidence it has heard over the past four years.
“The whole concept of confession in the Catholic Church is built on repentance, forgiveness and penance,” Sullivan said.
“If a child sex-abuser is genuinely seeking forgiveness through the sacrament of confession they will need to be prepared to do what it takes to demonstrate their repentance.
“Part of this forgiveness process, certainly in the case of a child sex-abuser, would normally require they turn themselves into the police. In fact the priest can insist that this is done before dispensing absolution.”
Sullivan said that given the commission had made a recommendation counter to the church’s position it would now be up to parliaments to form a view and then make the relevant changes to the law.
“If ultimately there are new laws that oblige the disclosure of information heard in the confessional, priests, like everybody else, will be expected to obey the law or suffer the consequences,” he said.
“If they do not this will be a personal, conscience decision, on the part of the priest that will have to be dealt with by the authorities in accordance with the new law as best they can.”
The report, Criminal Justice, also recommended a number of other legislative and policy changes.
It included reform to police and prosecution responses, evidence of complainants, sentences and appeals, and grooming offences as well as the new offences, including “failure to report” and “failure to protect”.
Royal Commission CEO Philip Reed said the criminal justice system was often seen as not being effective in responding to child sexual abuse cases and conviction rates were lower compared to other crimes.
“Child sexual abuse cases are often ‘word against word’ cases with no eyewitnesses or medical or scientific evidence. Complainants often take years or decades to disclose their abuse,” Reed said.
“Although we have focused on child sexual abuse in institutions, these 85 recommendations are likely to improve responses to child sexual abuse in all contexts.”
The Blue Knot Foundation, which supports adults who are survivors of childhood trauma, said the changes would foster greater participation of child and adult victims in the criminal justice process.
Foundation president Dr Cathy Kezelman AM said the changes would give “victims back a central role in the system”, in a way which was “informed, supported and potentially reduces their risk of re-traumatisation”.
“These changes will also help vindicate the dignity of victims and better protect the vulnerable against further violence,” she said.