Priests will be compelled to break the seal of the confessional and report admissions of child abuse under news laws being introduced in Victoria.
Under the laws, priests and spiritual leaders face up to three years’ jail if they don’t report child physical and sexual abuse allegations.
The laws, introduced into parliament on Wednesday, will make religious ministries mandatory reporters of abuse suspicions, alongside police, teachers, medical practitioners, and early childhood workers.
“It’s pretty simple: if you think a child is being abused, you have to report it,” Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said in a statement.
“We’re committed to driving this cultural change to make Victoria safer for our children.”
The laws were a bi-partisan promise ahead of last year’s state election.
But while both sides of politics agree, the Catholic Church says it will uphold the confessional.
“I am strongly committed to reporting to the appropriate authorities, and have already exercised that duty here in Melbourne. I am also strongly committed to upholding the seal of confession,” Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli wrote in a pastoral letter in August last year when the laws were first flagged.
Victoria’s Liberal-National opposition has previously indicated it would back a law mandating priests report child abuse allegations.
But party leader Michael O’Brien on Tuesday said he wanted to see the details of the bill.
“I’d like to think that in Victoria in 2019, we can make sure we can protect kids and we should also be able to respect freedom of religion. Let’s see if the government has got that balance right,” he said.