For our kids’ sake – the Sanctity of the Confessional has to go

When State Parliament resumes next year, the Greens will introduce legislation to give effect to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, according to Greens SA Parliamentary Leader, Mark Parnell MLC.

“After years of deliberation and thousands of witnesses with horrific tales of abuse, the State Parliament now needs to act fast to give effect to the recommendations.  One of the first reforms must be to ensure that the so-called “Sanctity of the Confessional” cannot be used to hide or ignore criminal behaviour,” said Mark Parnell.

“The Royal Commission has uncovered a long history of appalling abuse and cover-up in relation to the treatment of children in church schools and other institutions.  The only real measure of success is to make sure it never happens again. 

“This means we need to strengthen laws and close loopholes so that this sort of dreadful behaviour is quickly exposed and dealt with.  Requiring Priests to disclose information obtained in the confessional, whether from perpetrators, witnesses or victims, is a simple legal reform that will show the community we are serious about breaking the cycle of violence and cover-up.  We owe it to our kids, whose welfare should rank higher than religious traditions,” concluded Mark Parnell.

Legal Notes:

  1. Under the current Child Protection Act, a “minister of religion” is a “mandated notifier” of suspected child abuse or neglect, however there is an exception: “This section does not require a priest or other minister of religion to divulge information communicated in the course of a confession made in accordance with the rules and usages of the relevant religion.”
  2. Under the new Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017, (which passed Parliament this year but is not expected to come into operation until sometime next year), this exception is removed, however legal advice suggests that the Sanctity of the Confessional could still be raised as a defence unless it is specifically excluded.  This is what the Greens’ Bill will seek to do. We also call on the Government to Gazette the new Act as soon as possible.