New law introduced in Victoria could result in priests facing up to three years in prison

The Archbishop of Melbourne said he would rather spend three years in prison than report to authorities about confessions of child sexual abuse. This is in response to a new law introduced by the Victorian government, which would make it mandatory for Catholic priests to report child abuse revealed to them during confessions. Otherwise, they could face up to three years in prison.

Hours after the archbishop made this statement; the archdiocese stated it was surprised it was not consulted by the government on the bill. The archbishop said the Catholic community was not provided the opportunity to view the draft bill and share their input before it was released to the public.

However, the government claims the archdiocese was offered a dedicated briefing and was also invited to an information session it organized for all religious groups. Moreover, it also says the archbishop was offered a meeting with Luke Donnellan, the Minister for Child Protection, but the offer was not taken up.

Archbishop Comensoli said confession is a “religious encounter of a deeply personal nature” for members of the Catholic community, therefore information revealed during a confession deserves to be confidential. During the ABC radio interview, he also said he believes the principle of mandatory reporting and the principle of the seal of confession are not mutually exclusive.

Attorney-General Jill Hennessy’s opinions strongly clash with that of the archbishop. She told reporters she believes the “rights of children trump anyone’s religious views,” especially considering the contemporary times we live in today. She added the law is ultimately about ensuring that measures are taken to “right the wrongs of systemic abuse.”

Michael O’Brien, Opposition leader, also expressed his views. He said there must be a way to protect kids while also respecting the freedom and rights of people to practice their religion.

In response to this statement, Hennessy said she thinks it’s not too much to ask any parliamentarian to support a bill that would make failing to report child sexual abuse a criminal offense. Supporters also say this law would provide victims with the freedom they did not have before.

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