National

Church ‘can protect children, confession’

By AAP Newswire

Australia's Catholic priests are not using the seal of confession to protect child abusers and removing their legal protection will not make children safer, a senior archbishop says.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge says the safety of children is paramount but any safety measures must be realistic and effective.

A number of states are adopting child abuse royal commission recommendations that mean priests face the prospect of criminal charges for failing to report child abuse revealed in confession.

Archbishop Coleridge said the royal commission, as forensic as it was, did not find a systemic problem with the sacrament of penance in terms of child safety.

"Priests from a range of different backgrounds and pastoral experiences have said the sacrament isn't being abused to protect those who commit crimes against children," he said in a video message posted on Wednesday.

"The church doesn't want to protect criminals. It wants children to be safe from them."

The Brisbane archbishop said the church wanted measures that will genuinely make environments safer for children.

"There's nothing to suggest that legal abolition of the seal will help in that regard.

"Whatever (the) questions of religious freedom or the sheer practicability of what's proposed, the real question is will it make children any safer - and the church's answer is no."

Asked about the confession issue as he announced the federal government's formal response to the royal commission, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "The safety of children should always be put first."

Archbishop Coleridge said the church does not view the sacramental seal as incompatible with maintaining child safety.

The royal commission found the sacrament of reconciliation was a factor that contributed to both the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and to the church's inadequate response to the abuse.

NSW, the ACT and South Australia have either extended their mandatory reporting laws or introduced new failure to report offences, with the ACT and SA laws covering confessions.

SA Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the confessional would not be exempt from the reporting law coming into effect in October, which carries a maximum $10,000 fine.

NSW's failure to report offence will apply to clergy and ministers of religion and attract up to two years' jail, but the government says the religious confession privilege comes under uniform evidence law that applies in multiple jurisdictions.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the state still believes the issue should be considered at a national level.