Queensland: Clergy Who Don’t Report May Go to Jail

ABC News in Australia reported on September 8, 2020, that new laws were approved by the Queensland Parliament that “will force members of the clergy to report known or suspected cases of abuse to police”. This changes the rules for most religious organizations to notify authorities when they know of incidents of child abuse. They are no longer able to use “the sanctity of confessional” as a defense to ignore or hide child sex abuse matters.

Here is an edited version of the ABC News report with some commentary:

Queensland Passes Law to Jail Priests for Not Reporting Confessions of Child Sexual Abuse

Priests in Queensland will now be compelled to break the seal of confession to report child sexual abuse or face three years in jail.

New laws passed through Queensland Parliament will force members of the clergy to report known or suspected cases of abuse to police.

The legislation means religious institutions and their members are no longer able to use the sanctity of confessional as a defence or excuse in child sex abuse matters. Police Minister Mark Ryan said the laws would ensure better protection for vulnerable children.

“The requirement and quite frankly the moral obligation to report concerning behaviors towards children applies to everyone in this community,” he said. “No one group or occupation is being singled out.

The laws apply to information received from now, even if it relates to abuse that occurred in the past. The law was supported by the Opposition.

“They will go to jail before obeying”

But One Nation MP Stephen Andrew said it set a dangerous precedent 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?”

Members of the Catholic Church in Queensland have previously voiced their opposition to the laws. Earlier this year, Brisbane Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge told the ABC he believed breaking the confessional seal would “not make a difference to the safety of young people”.

“It’s about morality”

Hetty Johnston from the child protection group Bravehearts expressed her support for the new laws. “I don’t think there is enough jail time in the world that would replace a child’s innocence … what sort of punishment is suitable for someone who would allow that to happen? So I don’t know that it’s about time, it’s about morality.”

The laws enact recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The passing of the law also coincides with Queensland child protection week.

NOTE: An ABC News photo by Lincoln Rothall was attached to the original article that showed Archbishop Mark Coleridge arguing that “the new law won’t improve safety.” The article does not include any further comments from the Archbishop or any suggestions on how Queensland or the rest of Australia can improve and enforce child protection laws that will work.


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