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Confessional seal and child safety “not mutually exclusive”

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Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge has welcomed the Federal Government’s response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, while confirming the Church’s commitment to work to maintain the sacramental seal of confession.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 13 June announced the Federal Government’s response to the 122 of the 409 recommendations of the Royal Commission which he said fell wholly or partially under the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction. The additional 18 recommendations were not rejected but require further consideration, he said.

When asked about the recommendation that Catholic priests be required to break the seal of confession in cases where child abuse is disclosed, Mr Turnbull said it was a matter for the states and territories to decide, but that in his view the safety of children must take priority.

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

“The Church wants measures that will genuinely make environments safer for children,” the archbishop said in a statement.

“There has been no compelling evidence to suggest that legal abolition of the seal of confession will help in that regard.

“Protecting children and upholding the integrity of Catholic sacraments are not mutually exclusive and the Church wants to continue to work with government to ensure both can be achieved and maintained.”

The Archbishop said the Church welcomed the Government’s commitment to standardise approaches to child safety and research to help prevent child sexual abuse in the future.

He said the it has already begun its work to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and was the first non-government institution to join the national redress scheme on the national level.

“The Church had called for such a scheme over recent years and is firmly committed to providing redress to survivors who were abused in Catholic settings,” he said.

“Across the country, child safeguarding offices have been established or strengthened in dioceses, archdioceses and other Catholic organisations to streamline and centralise work on protecting children and young people in Church settings.

“At the national level, Catholic Professional Standards Ltd has been working with Church agencies, other non-government organisations and a number of government agencies to produce consistent national safeguarding standards for the Church.

“The Church also has established the Implementation Advisory Group, made up mostly of lay people, which is helping the bishops decide how to respond to the Royal Commission.”

He said the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is considering advice from internal and external stakeholders, including the Implementation Advisory Group, and that the Federal Government’s response will also inform the bishops’ response in important ways.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has said he supports the expansion of mandatory reporting laws to include Catholic confession, and will try to help the states and territories to harmonise their approach.

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