Unjust and Grossly Misguided

In late 2019 the McGowan Labor Government in Western Australia introduced the Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2019. The principal aim of this proposed legislation is to introduce mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, and this would be enforced in part by compelling clergy to break the Seal of the Confessional in the event an act of child sexual abuse was disclosed to a priest during a Confession. The Bill is stated to be an implementation of one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Relevantly, the Bill states, in proposed new section 124BA, as follows:

Section 124BA. Provisions for ministers of religion.  

    • In this section –
      religious confession means a confession made by a person to a minister of religion in the minister’s capacity as a minister or religion in accordance with the tenets of the minister’s faith or religion.

    • For the purposes of section 124B(1)(c)(i), a minister of religion who forms a belief on the basis of information disclosed to the minister in the minister’s capacity as a minister of religion is taken to form the belief in the course of the minister’s work.

(3)    A minister of religion is not excused from criminal responsibility for an offence under section 124B(1) on the grounds that –
a.    the minister’s belief is based on information disclosed to the minister during a religious confession; or
b.    disclosure of the minister’s belief or information on which the belief is based is otherwise contrary to the tenets of the minister’s faith or religion.

In summary, the effect of this proposed provision would be that any information disclosed to a priest during the course of Confession and which leads the priest to believe that a minor is being sexually abused must be reported to the authorities, irrespective of the wishes of the penitent. Thus abuse or suspected abuse must be reported. Failure to do so will constitute a criminal offence under the proposed amendment. Penalties for breaching this proposed provision range from fines to years in prison.[1]

Given our attention has, by and large, been focused on coronavirus over the course of 2020, coverage of this proposed legislation has received scant attention, which no doubt would suits the McGowan the Western Australian State Government very well. The Bill was the subject of a Parliamentary Inquiry by the Legislation Committee of the Legislative Council (“the Committee”), the Upper House of the WA State Parliament, and the Committee delivered its report on 10 September.[2] The Report made several findings in relation to the proposed legislation, and recommended, among other things, that ministers of religion be excused from criminal responsibility only when the grounds of their belief is based solely on information disclosed during religious confession. Notwithstanding this, it is the stated intention of the McGowan Government to proceed with this proposed legislation. Yet, when one applies proper scrutiny to this legislation, what emerges is that it is yet another unwarranted attack on religious freedom. Rather than “putting children first”, if the Bill were enacted, it would actually be most damaging on those it has been purportedly designed to protect, that is, the survivors of the heinous crime of child sexual abuse.

But first…

Before I go on, two things must be said. First, no-one who opposes this legislation denies child sexual abuse is one of the most horrible crimes. Each recount by survivors makes me sick to the stomach and their quest for justice and healing (the importance of the role of Confession in this regard I will outline later), is nothing short of admirable. Secondly, the Catholic Church, which seems to be the principal institution in the sights of this legislation, is not denying that not enough was done to stop child sexual abuse occurring by clergy and religious in the past or that it was covered up. The Catholic Church has acknowledged the grave errors of the past in dealing with child sexual abuse that caused so much harm to so many innocent people. However, over the last 20 or more years, the Church has actively reached out to survivors, offering them support, as well as putting in place policies and practices to provide the safest environment possible for children. His Eminence, Cardinal George Pell, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s, was the first in Australia to enact a comprehensive redress programme for survivors of abuse at the hands of the clergy that has been replicated across Australia and the world, and not just by the Catholic Church. Thus, as this article will demonstrate, there is no reasonable or logical justification for such a blatant intrusion on religious practice in the form of forcing clergy to violate the law of the Church.


The Confessional Seal and the Law of the Church

Let me explore the last point made in the previous paragraph further. The Seal of Confession is a universal Church law that the Church in Australia does not have the authority to alter. As noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs [1466], [1467]):

The confessor is not the master of God’s forgiveness, but its servant… Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal”, because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the sacrament.

More importantly, the Bill is in direct violation of the Code of Canon Law, the Law of the Catholic Church. As Canon 983 states, explicitly:

The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

Therefore the Bill, if enacted, would require bishops and priests to violate the law of the Universal Church, causing them to be automatically dismissed from their office according to Church law. In other words, any priest who betrays the confidentiality of Confession would thus also be immediately suspended from his ministry as a priest. As noted in the Report, the Committee received a number of submissions expressing concern that should the Bill be passed, priests will be in an impossible situation, as the penalty for disclosing information heard in confession is excommunication from the Church. This applies to those of the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. In this regard, the Committee cited the following submission.

If the legislation is passed requiring the Seal of Confessional to be broken, that puts the Catholic clergy in a very difficult position where they can be excommunicated from the church or imprisoned by the state depending on the choice they make.[3]

No priest, bishop or cardinal can change the law of the Church. Only the Pope can change the laws of the Church. Furthermore, the Pope has no authority to change what is understood by the Church to be Divine Law, and this Divine Law includes the Seal of the Confessional.[4] This is the firm belief of the Catholic faith, but not restricted to the Church of Rome. In fact, this belief is also a fundamental tenet of the faith of Eastern Rite Catholics, (such as the Melkite Church)[5], Eastern Orthodox Churches[6] and the Egyptian Coptic Church[7], to name but a few. To attack this belief, therefore, is an unwarranted infringement on the free practice of religion in Western Australia.


Lack of scrutiny of the Bill and ignorance of the Church’s position

Like most politicians these days, Mr McGowan and his ministers, in the face of (often warranted) criticism, respond with at best, attention seeking one-liners for their mainstream media cheer squad or, at worst, insults and patronising responses. Witness the reaction to the High Court challenge to the WA Government’s insistence to keep the State borders closed. Irrespective of the important constitutional question to be determined, this challenge and those supporting it have been described by Mr McGowan as a “menace”, a “threat”, and as having “declared war” on the State of Western Australia, among other things, and he has added that the borders will stay closed whether people like it or not.

As one can imagine, no censure of this Bill has come from the mainstream media, whose lack of scrutiny of the McGowan Government is akin to a sycophantic Pravda-like support (to quote Professor James Allan)[8] that one might have expected in former Eastern-bloc countries. The condemnation has come, not only from the Churches but, most significantly, from survivor groups. However, the WA Government’s response to criticism in this regard is in the same impertinent, condescending tone referred to above. The Minister for Child Protection, Simone McGurk, stated that by not supporting this legislation, the Catholic Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, was not “making child safety the number one priority”. As already explained, if Archbishop Costelloe, or any prelate for that matter, were to express support for this legislation, he would immediately be suspended from office and not be able to exercise his ministry as a priest because he would have violated the Church’s universal law. The attitude by the Minister would seem to be yet another case of virtue signalling, used here to demonstrate the commitment of the McGowan Government to child protection. While such a statement might be welcomed by the outraged anti-clerical mob, what it actually entails is something far more sinister, because it exploits, for squalid political purposes, the dreadful abomination of child sexual abuse.

What it also demonstrates is that Mr McGowan and his comrades do not understand the position of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in this regard, which, as outlined above, forces clergy to alter a law they do not have the authority to alter. In other words, it is symptomatic of a syndrome identified recently by the Editor of The Spectator Australia, Rowan Dean, in many governments these days, that of “authoritarianism meeting ignorance”.[9] Bob Dylan once sang: “don’t criticise what you don’t understand”. Well, Mr McGowan and his ministers would be well served to take this advice, because, to use their words, whether they like it or not, this is the law of the Church and it ill-behoves persons in their position to attack it, especially when one other crucial fact is conveniently ignored.

However, as outlined in the introduction to this essay, the Bill does not actually implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission, in fact, recommended mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse for five rofessions, these being:

# out-of-home care workers (excluding foster and kinship/relative carers)

# youth justice workers

# early childhood workers

# registered psychologists and school counsellors

# people in religious ministry.[10]

However, of these groups, as the Minister stated in her Second Reading speech to the WA Legislative Assembly, only ministers of religion have been singled out for mandatory reporting.[11] To this end, the Committee heard considerable objection to the Bill applying only to ministers of religion. Many submissions noted this was discriminatory. The Committee in the Report[12] cited the following submissions:

Are children in the care of the other groups not worthy of the same degree of protection as those interacting with ‘people in religious ministry’? Why have ‘People in Religious Ministry’ been singled out for inclusion in the Amendment Bill? The omission of the other four groups, in my opinion, is prejudiced and discriminatory.

And another:

The Royal Commission recommended that five groups be considered for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. Why then, are only Ministers of Religion being singled out from the other four groups? This, in my opinion, shows bias and inequality. How can this possibly help implement an effective implantation of mandatory reporting in such a critical issue as child protection?


Our question is, “why has the Minister chosen to leave out the other four categories and singled out the ‘ministers of religion’ alone? Our understanding is that, ‘at a minimum’ would mean, to include ALL these categories.

The Church is obviously an easier and more convenient target, since attacking the Confessional Seal is not restricted to the WA Labor Party. It follows legislation enacted by the Andrews Labor Government in Victoria and the (then) Hodgman Liberal Government in Tasmania last year. The Commonwealth Government has also proposed to legislate this insidious attack on religious freedom in the name of “protecting children”, as have the governments of New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.[13] I am not aware that any of this legislation, enacted or proposed, forces psychologists and school counsellors to disclose episodes of child sexual abuse divulged to them in professional consultations.[14] The Committee’s Report recommended that the Minister for Child Protection expedite consultation to include youth justice workers and school counsellors as mandatory reporters under the legislation.[15] In making this recommendation, the Committee noted the following:[16]

The Committee notes the wealth of domestic and international evidence about the effectiveness of mandatory reporting laws in protecting children.[17] This evidence is not being called into question, and the Committee assumes that good mandatory reporting laws can improve child safety.

In making recommendation 7.3, the Royal Commission was aiming to capture groups of individuals who work closely with children, in addition to the groups already mandated across the country (doctors, teachers, nurses and police):

In our view, individuals who work closely with children should be obliged to report child sexual abuse to an external government authority.

One of the benefits of this recommendation is that more individuals who work closely with children – and who therefore have a moral and professional imperative to report known or suspected child abuse and neglect to an external government authority – would be both obliged to report and protected in making a report to child protection.[18]

The Committee did not receive any evidence to suggest that ministers of religion work more closely or have more contact with children than the other four groups. The Department was unable to provide data to support which recommended reporter groups have the most contact with at-risk children. Several stakeholders suggested that if one group was to be given ‘first priority’ for inclusion, it should be either out-of-home care workers or early childhood workers.

In light of the above, the rationale for the Bill that it is an implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse is fundamentally flawed. The Royal Commission did not, in fact, recommend that the Seal of the Confessional be removed outright in cases of child sexual abuse. Recommendation 7.4 states, relevantly:

Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge or suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.[19]

However, the Royal Commission subsequently offered an opportunity for flexibility and discretion on the part of a priest when confronted with the revelation of child sexual abuse during Confession. In this regard, the Royal Commission Final Report states:

The Royal Commission recommends that the Catholic Church in Australia seeks clarification from the Holy See on:

1/ “whether information received from a child during the Sacrament of Reconciliation that they had been sexually abused would be covered by the Seal of Confession; and

2/ whether absolution could and should be withheld if a person confessed to perpetrating child sexual abuse, until they report themselves to civil authorities”.[20]

The Bill, therefore, in its current form, in insisting on mandatory reporting in all cases, including Confessions, does not offer clergy this opportunity for flexibility and discretion as recommended by the Royal Commission. It is presently open to any priest, and in fact, may be considered to be pastorally proper for him, when faced with the confession of any serious crime, to invite the penitent to discuss the matter further outside of the confessional or consider whether to withhold absolution until he or she has gone to the police.[21] This was clarified further by Rev. Dr Julian Wellspring, the Judicial Vicar for New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. He states:

Everything said during confession and in the context of confession is in the internal forum and always under the seal […] In regard to any revelation about sexual abuse during confession, the confessor always remains the minister in the internal forum. He should never encourage the penitent to speak to him outside confession about the matter, as if this somehow transfers the matter to the external forum. The internal forum extends to that conversation. Further, any possibility of confusing the internal and external forums should be avoided. The penitent should be encouraged to take it to the external forum, but this can never be done by the confessor. The penitent must be referred to someone else.[22]

Wellspring goes on to affirm that:

Importantly confessors should remember that civil law presumes that adults are able to take current or historic sexual abuse to the police themselves. Adults mentioning childhood sexual abuse should be encouraged to do so.[23]

To this end, the Committee made the following findings:

# According to evidence received, the passing of the provisions for ‘abolition’ of the Confessional Seal in the Bill, would create a serious conflict for ministers of religion of the Catholic and Orthodox faiths.

# With the exception of information contained during religious confession, there is support from Catholic and Orthodox ministers of religion to become mandatory reporters.[24]

In fact, the Committee received over 600 submissions to this inquiry. Over 90 percent of those submissions were in opposition to the clauses proposing to introduce ministers of religion as mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse.[25] The Committee thus recommended that:

1/ Ministers of religion be excused from criminal responsibility only when the grounds of their belief is based solely on information disclosed during religious confession; and

2/ The Government of Western Australia consult with ministers of religion on non-statutory provisions that would facilitate the effective use of information received during religious confession.[26]

Lack of consultation – especially with victims of child sexual abuse

The Committee noted a number of submissions that advised of the lack of consultation by the WA Government over the Bill.[27] In fact, it found that the Government did not follow the WA Public Sector Commission’s Guidelines for the Review of Legislation.[28] Naturally, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches[29] were not consulted on this legislation, but, more significantly and distressingly, neither were survivor groups. In fact, as confirmed by the Minister in her Second Reading Speech, only a very limited consultation has been conducted, involving a number of Aboriginal organisations and 37 written submissions.[30] If the Minister had bothered to consult with survivor groups, what she would have heard is that, as opposed to “putting child safety first”, the very safety of these children will, in fact, be put at grave risk by this legislation. One need only hear or read the stories of survivors of sexual abuse to understand why this will be the case if the legislation in enacted. For these survivors, the Confessional is the only place a vulnerable child or adult can access, discretely and free of charge, without fear of reprisal, and recount their trauma, thus giving them the chance to heal. In fact, several non-Catholics, including Aboriginal people, have used the Confessional because it represented for them a desperately needed lifeline they could find nowhere else.

The Committee reported that approximately one quarter of submissions to the inquiry referred to how victims and survivors of child sexual abuse rely on the confidentiality of the confessional to seek healing for their own experiences of child sexual abuse.[31] The Committee heard personally from a number of survivors of child sexual abuse about how confession helped them to begin healing and noted that: “Submitters expressed concern that the Bill will take an important service away from this group.” [32] In fact, the Report highlighted a particularly strong aspect of the evidence presented in relation to the proposed mandatory reporting provisions is the value that victims of child sexual abuse who access the confessional assign to its absolute confidentiality. The fear is that victims of child sexual abuse would not disclose that abuse in the confessional, if the priest was obliged to make a mandatory report.[33] As noted by Wellspring: “The penitent has a right to privacy and anonymity and the sacred pastors have a duty to respect that right.”[34]

The report cited the following submissions in this respect:

You are taking away the abused victims’ protection rights when they go to a Confessional – they go because of the seal of privacy. There is a great chance that the Priest inspires them to go help. I know this because this was my experience. For many people it has been the very first place, and I mean for very many—in fact, for the majority of people who have used it, it has been the first place that they have actually learnt to speak about their abuse.[35]

 One submitter was deeply affected by being sexually abused at age 12. In her early twenties, she was finally able to share her suffering:

It was within the Sacrament of Reconciliation that I began to understand the coping mechanisms I was exhibiting. Without the Seal of Confession I would not have shared the pain and wounds I was carrying.[36]

Another survivor affirmed the following:

So what happened was I became enabled to the point where I had learnt to have a voice, and where I am today is very much enabled to stand and speak on behalf of others, I hope. So what happens is if the survivor or the victim is being given the opportunity to be able to grow in their inner person, which, again, is what the seal of the confessional offers them, then what happens is we are much, much more likely to have people coming forward and going to statutory authorities and saying, “This is a situation.”[37]

Mandatory reporting of sexual abuse will impact most on the practice of the Confessional Seal in Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Many survivors currently use the Confession as a safe space for counselling, support and healing. This Bill, by removing the Seal of the Confessional, will cruelly deny those survivors an important first step in order to overcome the terrible harm they have endured, thereby causing grave harm to those people it has been purportedly designed to protect. The common thread that emerges from these submissions is that politicians’ attempt to pervert the only safe, secure and sacred place used by vulnerable children and adults will cripple victims’ journeys of recovery. Key witnesses are being re-traumatised. The Committee thus found that: “Submitters made the point that the absolute confidentiality of religious confession is an important benefit for victims who use the confessional.”[38]


The Bill will do nothing to stop abuse

Another detail that that appears to have been conveniently ignored by the WA State Government is that paedophiles very rarely confess their sin and crime in Confession. In fact, all the anecdotal evidence demonstrates that priests have rarely, if ever, had the sin and crime of sexual abuse confessed to them. According to the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, abusers do not regularly seek out confession, and would be even less likely to do so if they knew their offences would be reported.[39] Other submissions noted at the same time that the legislation was not directed to mandatory reporting of murder, rape or other terrible crimes.[40] The Archdiocese of Perth also has a policy in place for priests in managing the rare confessions of child sexual abuse.[41]

Criminologists would also attest to the fact that the criminal mind of the perpetrator, particularly in these cases, is such that he or she believes nothing wrong has been done. Paedophiles are unlikely to confess something they do not feel guilty about. Furthermore, it is extremely probable that the forced breaking of the Seal of the Confessional will act, perversely, as a disincentive to paedophiles to confess their sin and crime in the rare cases they may be disposed to so do, thus removing the opportunity to reform such offenders. This point is also made, tellingly, by one of the survivors in a submission made to the Committee and related in the Report.[42]

In response to the Committee’s report, the Minister for Child Protection, quoted in The West Australian on  September 11, completely ignored all the Committee’s concerns and engaged in the same type of impertinence described earlier in this paper. Further, she continued to perpetuate the half-truth that the Bill is an implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, when it was patently shown by the Committee in the Report this this was not fully the case.[43]

The Minister said she was “disappointed and angry”, accusing the Committee members of obstruction of the Government’s agenda. The Minister added:

I’ll certainly be speaking to both leaders as well as members of the Liberal and National Party in the Upper House… without the support of one of the parties it is almost certain to be defeated. I don’t think the public’s on their side on this. I think people are very clear that they do not view any church in Australia above the law. And I certainly don’t think that some members of the Liberal-National party in the Upper House in Western Australia know better than the Royal Commission.[44]

How is it logically possible to say the public supports the legislation when over 90 per cent of submissions the Committee received were against the provisions to make ministers of religion mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse? Further, none of the submissions received stated that the Churches believed they were above the law, but simply pointed out the futility of such legislation. As noted above, abusers do not regularly seek out confession, and would be even less likely to do so if they knew their offences would be reported. Some priests went as far as to tell the Committee that they would sooner commit a criminal offence under the Act than break the seal of confession:

I would absolutely go to jail or face any other civil penalty before I broke the sacramental seal, and I suspect that all priests—regardless of their ideological persuasion—would say the same.[45]

Let us also not forget that recent history has shown us how easy it is for the State to move from control of religious practice to persecution of it on the nebulous grounds of “public safety”. A certain little Austrian corporal started religious persecution in Germany in the 1930s for this very reason. In a more unfortunate turn of events, it appears that the Liberal Opposition in Western Australia will support the passage of this legislation, and, in particular, clauses proposing to introduce ministers of religion as mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse.[46]



As noted by the Committee, limited consultation, a sense of being singled out and concerns about the impact of a legislative requirement to break the seal of confession have contributed to opposition to mandatory reporting of child abuse revealed during a confession, particularly from Catholic and Orthodox Church, but also, and most significantly, from survivors. This is evidenced by the fact that over 90 per cent of submissions to this inquiry were opposed to breaking the seal of confession.[47] Further, requiring priests to break the seal of confession to report child sexual abuse creates a conflict for ministers of religion from the Catholic and Orthodox faiths with their universal Church law, and may result in their excommunication.[48] Most importantly, however, is the value that victims of child sexual abuse who access the confessional assign to its absolute confidentiality. The fear is that victims of child sexual abuse would not disclose that abuse in the confessional, if the priest was obliged to make a mandatory report.[49]

Therefore, the State Government would be well-advised to consult and work collaboratively with the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to implement and improve practices that are within their power to implement. It is also imperative that the Minister actually listen to the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, since the unintended consequences that will flow from mandatory reporting and the removal of the Confessional Seal will be such that the Bill’s impact will be most damaging on them. What is most distressing about this episode is that those survivors’ voices are once more being ignored, this time by haughty, self-righteous politicians. Survivors are again are felling hurt, abandoned and traumatised by yet another unwarranted and unjustified attack on freedom of religion in this country.

Dr Rocco Loiacono is Senior Lecturer at the Curtin University Law School

[1] See generally: http://www.perthcatholic.org.au/Our_Archdiocese-Archbishop-Latest_News-2020-Open_Letter_Inquiry_into_the_Children_and_Community_Services_Amendment_Bill_2019.htm.

[2] Report of the Standing Committee on Legislation into the Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2019, Legislative Council, Parliament of Western Australia (“Report”).

[3] Ibid, p. 47.

[4] Pope Francis reaffirmed this position in a speech on 29 March 2019 in a Course on the Internal Forum organised by the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

[5] See the Easter 2019 pastoral letter of the Most Reverend Robert Rabbat, Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparch of Australia and New Zealand https://www.melkite.org.au/pascha-letter.

[6] See generally: https://neoskosmos.com/en/43333/breaking-the-seal-church-priest-confession-abuse-of-children/. The Report (at page 34) that the Oriental Orthodox Churches in Western Australia comprise the Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Indian and Armenian Apostolic Churches.

[7] See generally: http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/thecopticchurch/sacraments/3_repentance_confesstion.html.

[8] James Allan ‘One of the most colossal failures of the century’ The Spectator Australia, 8 August 2020, at: https://www.spectator.com.au/2020/07/one-of-the-most-colossal-failures-of-the-century/.

[9] ‘The Bolt Report’, Sky News Australia, 29 July 2020, at: https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6176189041001.

[10] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final report: preface and executive summary, Commonwealth of Australia, Barton, ACT, 2017, p 1 (“Royal Commission Final Report”).

[11] Second Reading Speech of Ms Simone McGurk, Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2019, Hansard of the Parliament of Western Australia, at: https://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard/hansard.nsf/0/DB9BEB7FDC8906EE482584CB00175687/$FILE/A40%20S1%2020191128%20p9593b-9596a.pdf (“Second Reading Speech”).

To quote from the Hansard: “Western Australia’s expansion of the scheme to ministers of religion has been expedited over the other reporter groups that were recommended to become mandated reporters to achieve minimum national consistency.”

[12] Report, above n 2, at p. 37.

[13] See generally: https://cruxnow.com/church-in-oceania/2019/09/australian-states-to-have-priests-report-abuse-disclosed-in-confession/.

[14] Second Reading Speech, above n 10.

[15] Report, above n 2, p. 45.

[16] Ibid, pp. 44-45.

[17] Ben Mathews et al, Child abuse and neglect: a socio-legal study of mandatory reporting in Australia – report for the Australian Government, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 2015.

[18] Royal Commission Final Report, above n 8, p 12.

[19] Ibid, at p. 1.

[20] Ibid, Volume 16, Religious institutions Book 1, p 77.

[21] See generally: https://cruxnow.com/church-in-oceania/2019/09/australian-states-to-have-priests-report-abuse-disclosed-in-confession/.

[22] Rev Dr J. Wellspring, “The Seal of Confession and Mandatory Reporting Laws: Advice to Confessors”, Journal of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, Spring 2019, pp. 16-17 (“Wellspring”).

[23] Ibid, p. 20.

[24] Report, above n 2, Executive Summary, iv.

[25] Ibid, p. 32.

[26] Ibid, Recommendation 17, p.60.

[27] This formed Finding 11 of the Report (at p. 35): “There was inadequate consultation in relation to the provisions of the Bill regarding mandatory reporting by ministers of religion.”

[28] Ibid.

[29] To quote from the Report (at p. 34): “The Most Reverend Timothy Costelloe, Archbishop of Perth, told the Committee that the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth had not been consulted ‘at all’.

Reverend Father Abram Abdelmalek confirmed that the Oriental Orthodox Churches, comprising the Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Indian and Armenian Apostolic Churches, were also not consulted.”

[30] Second Reading Speech, above n 10. To quote from the Hansard: “In 2017, the then Department for Child Protection and Family Support reviewed the act on my behalf with the assistance of a review committee and legal working group with external representation. The review received 37 written submissions in response to a consultation paper. During the four-month consultation period, regional consultations were held with Aboriginal community members, service providers and Aboriginal community controlled–organisations.”

[31] Report, above n 2, p. 49.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Wellspring, above n 21, p. 17.

[35] Report, above n 2, p. 49.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid, p. 50.

[38] Ibid, p. 50. Note the following submission as an example (at p. 53):

The challenge becomes this—this is our difficulty, really, with mandatory reporting—in essence it sounds like a very, very good idea, but in practice, if you literally cripple the very witnesses or you shut down the evidence that you need, nobody wins. You just do not get a guilty verdict in the end.

[39] Ibid, p. 48.

[40] Ibid, p. 57.

[41] Ibid p. 56.

[42] Ibid, p. 50.

[43] See n 19 above.

[44] The West Australian, 11 September 2020, p. 1.

[45] Report, above n. 2, p. 49.

[46] The West Australian, 16 September 2020, p. 8.

[47] Report, above n. 2, p. 59.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

2 thoughts on “Unjust and Grossly Misguided



    If the poster, who has been allowed back on parole because the editor’s heart overflows with the milk of human kindness, does not mend his ways, avoid posting prolix streaks of utter drek and hijacking threads, The ban will be reinstated, and this time it will be even longer than the interminable comments he persists in posting.


  • Salome says:

    It is my understanding that one can excommunicate oneself simply by failing to attend Sunday Mass. And in the 1940s, suicide was more likely to be regarded as a mortal sin than a symptom of an underlying psychiatric condition, so I expect that by that alone (not to forget everything that happened prior to it) he was excommunicated without the need for papal intervention. The pope would normally only bother to excommunicate people who went about professing to be Catholics while teaching heresy or committing grave sin. As to confession, I get the strong impression that there are commentators out there in our media and parliaments who think it’s a matter of telling the priest what you’ve done, saying three Hail Marys and you’re o.k. until next time.

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