THE Catholic Church in Australia has rejected a recommendation to force priests to report allegations of child abuse disclosed in confessionals to police.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) said it did not accept the recommendation from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – delivered in a report last year following a landmark inquiry.
The recommendation would force priests by law to report abuse to authorities after hearing about it in confession.
The ACBC released its own report today in response to the guidance specifically targetted at Catholic institutions.
While it accepted 98% of the recommendations – including the screening of new recruits and asking the Vatican to consider making celibacy voluntary – it did not budge on the issue of breaking the seal of confession.
"The council supported, and continues to support, retention of the civil law protection for the seal of the confessional," the ACBC's report said.
"Children will be less rather than more safe if mandatory reporting of confessions were required."
The rejection comes eight months after a five-year government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions in Australia delivered its conclusions.
The inquiry heard that 7% of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes, and that over 1,000 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.
Its recommendations came amid worldwide allegations that churches had protested paedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.
Sometimes abusers were sent overseas for religious education rather than being reported to police, often reoffending in the process.
ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said "there will be no cover-up" this time.
He added: "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.
"Those failures allowed some abusers to offend again and again, with tragic and sometimes fatal consequences. The bishops and leaders of religious orders pledge today: Never again."
In recent weeks, a former Australian archbishop became the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of covering up abuse and was ordered to serve a one-year prison sentence at home.
The ex-Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson – himself a former ACBC president – was found to have failed to report child abuse allegations revealed outside the confessional in 1976.
The 67-year-old said he would appeal the conviction before tendering his resignation to Pope Francis – who himself has been accused by an American bishop of knowing for years about sexual misconduct by a US cardinal and doing nothing about it.