Australia’s Catholic leaders have vowed to end the cover-up of child sexual abuse but steadfastly refuse to break the seal of confession, even if it means priests could face criminal charges.
The leaders have vowed the Catholic Church’s shameful history of priests and others in its ranks sexually abusing children will never be repeated, pledging accountability and a plan of action in response to a royal commission’s call for sweeping reforms.
It will be up to Pope Francis and his advisers to act on many of the Australian child abuse royal commission’s far-reaching recommendations and its implications for centuries-old canon law.
Australia’s Catholic leaders have vowed to end the cover-up of child sexual abuse but steadfastly refuse to break the seal of confession
The leaders have vowed the Catholic Church’s shameful history of priests and others in its ranks sexually abusing children will never be repeated
But Australian bishops will not yield to the royal commission’s call to break the seal of confession to reveal child sexual abuse, even if priests face the prospect of criminal charges under extended mandatory reporting laws.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and the peak body for religious orders, Catholic Religious Australia, said it was the one royal commission recommendation they could not accept.
‘This is because it is contrary to our faith and inimical to religious liberty,’ ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge and CRA president Sister Monica Cavanagh said.
‘We are committed to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people while maintaining the seal.
‘We do not see safeguarding and the seal as mutually exclusive.’
Archbishop Coleridge said many changes had been made since the horrific reality of child sexual abuse became known, but they were sometimes too slow and too timid.
He said too many priests, brothers, sisters and lay people failed to protect children and many bishops failed to listen, believe and act.
‘Those failures allowed some abusers to offend again and again, with tragic and sometimes fatal consequences,’ he said in a statement on Friday.
‘The bishops and leaders of religious orders pledge today: Never again.
‘There will be no cover-up. There will be no transferring of people accused of abuse. There will be no placing the reputation of the church above the safety of children.’
It will be up to Pope Francis and his advisers to act on many of the Australian child abuse royal commission’s far-reaching recommendations
Sr Monica said the church had already started to change a number of practices including in the screening and formation of people training to be priests or religious sisters or brothers.
‘Today is not about us saying ‘we will do the bare minimum’ in responding to the royal commission’s important recommendations,’ she said.
‘Changing the culture of our church to be answerable and open is part of the action that needs to occur.’
The church’s key royal commission adviser wants it to appoint an ombudsman or oversight body to investigate complaints and make recommendations to improve systems, processes and the appropriate use of power in the church.
‘Such a body would need to have teeth,’ the Truth Justice and Healing Council said in a report released on Friday.
The ACBC has started discussions with the Holy See about the commission’s recommendations dealing with the discipline and doctrine of the universal church.
The royal commission called on the Holy See to make numerous changes to centuries-old church canon law including that the ‘pontifical secret’ does not apply to abuse allegations and to consider voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.