Make priests report child abuse: Archbishop

RELIGIOUS ministers in Ballarat should be subject to new laws requiring them to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities, the Catholic Church said yesterday. 

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart yesterday said an extension of Victoria’s mandatory reporting rules should be immediately made to include religious ministers across the state and for the establishment of new mechanisms for reporting offenders without exposing victims. 

However, the proposal would not require priests to report information received during the sacrament of confession. 

Archbishop Hart issued a statement in response to comments from Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu who forecast changes to the Crimes Act to compel priests to report suspicions of abuse. 

Mr Baillieu said he was yet to be convinced that disclosures from the confessional should take place and called for the state inquiry into clergy sexual abuse to include the controversial matter in its recommendations. 

The inquiry was launched following a Victoria Police report into as many as 40 suicides linked to sexual abuse by priests and Catholic brothers in the Ballarat region. 

“The Church believes these are important reforms that would help protect children from the appalling effects of sexual abuse,” Archbishop Hart said. 

“Evidence to the inquiry so far indicates widespread support for both changes, which the Church has recommended in its submission, Facing the Truth. Therefore, there appears to be no reason to delay these significant reforms.”

Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird was not available for comment yesterday, but has previously defended the sanctity of confession and said the sacrament was an opportunity for priests to counsel those responsible for crimes to report to police. 

Bishop Bird said this month he saw little benefit to changing reporting rules on confession, as offenders would not attend the sacrament if priests were required to report instances of child sexual abuse. 

Existing mandatory reporting rules require doctors, nurses and teachers who are aware of or suspect child abuse to make a report to the Department of Human Services.

The proposal would also allow church officials to report suspected offenders without the name of the victim being passed on against their will. 

Speaking in Ballarat last week, Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the Victorian inquiry should co-operate with the national royal commission on institutional child sexual abuse and pass on evidence and submissions. 

“I hope that both governments will sit down and ensure that no one is forced to tell a very painful and tragic story two times,” he said. 

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