Father says he won’t break confessional seal

By Morgan Dyer

A South Shepparton Catholic priest says he would rather go to jail than tell authorities about confessions of child abuse.

St Mel's Parish Priest Father Peter Taylor said he would not report confessional sins; however, he would report the admittance of the horrendous crimes if made outside the box.

The revelation comes after a bill passed in Victorian parliament last week made it mandatory for religious and spiritual leaders to report child abuse to authorities — even if heard inside the confessional.

Although Fr Taylor did not discuss specifics, he said there were systems within the church that would be used to provoke external confessions.

“We know that people benefit from the sacrament of penance, reconciliation, confession and that people have trust and confidence that the priests are there to give God's healing and God's peace,” he said.

“In an event of someone who confesses a sin in relation to abuse or serious allegation we have strategies available within the church without breaking the seal of confession."

The rejection of the law came as Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp thanked survivors, families and advocates of child abuse for “reliving their nightmares” to make the historic reforms possible.

“We promised that we would put the safety of children ahead of religion at the last election and I am so proud to say that we have delivered on that commitment,” Mr Gepp said.

“My hope is that the survivors and families can heal and find peace knowing that they helped ensure that this never happens again.

“This legislation is saying very loudly, very clearly and unequivocally that the safety, wellbeing and protection of our children is paramount, and nothing is more important than that.”

Under the new laws, priests and spiritual leaders must report the reasonable belief of physical or sexual child abuse or face up to three years in prison.

Reports will be investigated through the Department of Health and Human Services and police, and enforced under the Crimes Act.

The law is not retrospective; however, under mandatory reporting requirements, if a religious minister believes a child is still at risk or at harm they must report to police.

They are also required to contact and report the details to the police even if the person is not known to the religious minister.

Mr Gepp said everyone had a moral and legal obligation to protect children from harm.

“Everyone is required to comply with the laws of the state, and there should be no exception,” he said.

Some of these laws, however, may leave people of faith, such as Fr Taylor, in two minds.

“As Catholic priests we are bound by the seal of confession, but we know we're not above the law of the state,” Fr Taylor said.

The laws were made in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Fr Taylor said the church already had measures in place in response to the commission, which heard more than 7000 child sexual abuse survivors recount their experiences.

“We have at St Mel’s and in our Catholic churches policies that we are following quite rigorously in relation to child safety and their protection and for vulnerable people through the requirements of the royal commission into child sex abuse within church,” he said.

His boss, Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli, shared the same view and insisted that three years in jail was preferable to breaking the seal of confession.