A new law requires priests in the state of Queensland to break the seal of confession to report child sex abuse to police or face three years in jail.
The law was passed by Queensland Parliament Sept. 8. It had support from both major parties and was opposed by the Catholic Church.
One Queensland prelate, Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville, tweeted a link to a story on the passage of the new law and said, “Catholic priests cannot break the seal of confession.”
The new law was a response to recommendations from the Royal Commission Into Child Sexual Abuse, which uncovered and documented the tragic history of abuses in religious and secular organizations, including Catholic-run schools and orphanages across the country. South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have already enacted similar laws.
One recommendation from Royal Commission was that the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference should consult with the Holy See, and “clarify whether information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they have been sexually abused is covered by the seal of confession” and also whether “if a person confesses during the sacrament of reconciliation to perpetrating child sexual abuse, absolution can and should be withheld until they report themselves to civil authorities.”
But in a note approved by Pope Francis and published by the Vatican in mid-2019, the Apostolic Penitentiary affirmed the absolute secrecy of everything said in confession and called on priests to defend it at all costs, even at the cost of their lives.