In a historic move, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull provided the government’s official response to the child abuse royal commission on Wednesday by accepting 104 of the inquiry’s 122 recommendations – and promising to deliver a national apology to victims and survivors on October 22.
Mr Turnbull called on churches to prioritise the safety of children, even if child abuse was revealed in the confession box.
But his government is still reviewing 18 of the recommendations, including the creation of criminal offences that would penalise priests if they did not break the seal of confession to report abuse.
A leading church figure, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, immediately offered a bristling response by saying the church did not view the sacramental seal as incompatible with maintaining child safety.
However, Chrissie Foster, who has campaigned for more than 20 years for the safety of children after two of her three daughters were repeatedly raped by a school Catholic priest, told The New Daily the “priority” must be children and not canon law.
“Why should society be beholden to rules they have made up to suit themselves?” she said.
The ACT Legislative Assembly last week passed legislation requiring priests to break the seal of confession to report abusers.
Australia’s Catholic leaders maintain the seal of confession cannot be broken, even if priests face criminal charges for failing to reveal child abuse, as recommended by the final report of the $500 million Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The final report stated the commissioners were “satisfied” the practice of the “sacrament of reconciliation” (confession) contributed to the occurrence of sexual abuse and to “inadequate institutional responses to abuse”.