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Queensland passes law to jail priests for not reporting confessions of child sexual abuse

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Sacrament questioned: “In the Sacrament of Penance, the relationship between priest and penitent is unlike any other relationship, because the penitent speaks not to the priest but to God, with the priest only a mediator. Photo: CNS

PRIESTS in Queensland will be forced to break the seal of confession to report child sex abuse to police.

New laws passed through Queensland Parliament on Tuesday, September 8 mean religious institutions and their members are no longer able to use the sanctity of the confessional as a defence or excuse in child sex abuse matters.

The laws passed with support from both major parties, and despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church.

The new laws arose as a result of recommendations from the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, and failure to comply will carry a three year jail sentence.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has maintained the Church commitment to the protection of children, however breaking the confessional seal would “not make a difference to the safety of young people”.

In a formal submission to a parliamentary inquiry, Archbishop Coleridge  explained that stripping Catholics of the seal made priests “less a servant of God than an agent of the state”.

He said the proposed legislation raised “major questions about religious freedom” and was based on a “poor knowledge of how the sacrament actually works in practice”.

Archbishop Coleridge said the seal “enables the penitent to speak openly before God, to stand open and honest before God, to hide nothing from the God who sees all and forgives all.”

However, Police Minister Mark Ryan maintains the laws will ensure better protection for vulnerable children.

“The requirement and quite frankly the moral obligation to report concerning behaviours towards everyone applies to everyone in this community,” he said.

“No one group or occupation is being singled out.

“Child protection is everyone’s responsibility.”

The new laws apply to information received from now, even if it relates to abuse that occurred in the past.

In parliament, One Nation MP Stephen Andrew voiced support for religious leaders.

“The bill poses a real danger for public trust and cohesion in our community,” Mr 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?”

South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have already enacted similar laws.

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