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WA confession law commences

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Priest listening to a confession

Ministers of religion in Western Australia are now legally required to report information about child sexual abuse, including information gained in the sacrament of Confession.

The changes are part of new laws introduced by the McGowan Government that which came into effect on 1 November.

Priests will not be excused from criminal responsibility for failing to make a report because their belief that a child has been or is being abused is based on information disclosed during Confession.

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Failure to make a mandatory report is an offence in the state with a maximum penalty of $6,000. 

The priest, therefore, has no right or authority to disclose anything that takes place in this intimate encounter with God.”

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB defended the Seal of Confession as essential to Catholic faith before a West Australian parliamentary committee of inquiry into the issue in 2020.

Acknowledging the “dreadful history” of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the archbishop said he understood why people were dismayed by his insistence on upholding the principle of the absolute confidentiality of the sacrament as practiced in the Church.

“Sins are not confessed to the priest, but to God,” he explained. “The priest, therefore, has no right or authority to disclose anything that takes place in this intimate encounter with God … To make the free practice of an essential aspect of the Catholic faith illegal, seems to me to be something that modern secular societies have always understood to be beyond the limits of their authority.”

Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk said the government was committed to implementing the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

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