Australian inquiry on church abuse says priests must report confessions

A landmark inquiry into high-profile church abuse cases in Australia recommended on Aug. 14 that Catholic priests should report confessions of sexual abuse or else face criminal charges. However, the Church has indicated that it will oppose this proposed change.

(Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse / Jeremy Piper / Handout via REUTERS)Officials from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse arrive on the opening day of their public hearing into the Anglican Church of Australia in Sydney, Australia, March, 17 2017.

In 2013, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse started speaking to thousands of victims in religious and non-religious organizations. On Monday, it recommended several changes to the criminal justice system in Australia which includes proposed criminal charges for people who know or suspect child abuse but failed to report it to authorities, the BBC detailed.

Aside from that, the commission recommended creating national laws that would prohibit abusers from moving between institutions. The report also called for new methods that would be less traumatic for victims who have to testify, among other recommendations.

However, Jesuit priest and Australian Catholic University professor of law Father Frank Brennan objected to the commission's recommendation for the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse revealed via confessions. He vowed to defy new laws that would force Catholic priests to break the confidentiality of confessions, The Australian reported.

"And if there is a law that says that I have to disclose it, then yes, I will conscientiously refuse to comply with the law," Father Brennan shared with The Australian. "All I can say is that in 32 years no one has ever come near me and confessed anything like that. And instituting such a law, I say, simply reduces rather than increases the prospect that anyone ever will come and confess that to me."

News reached the commission that from 1950 to 2010, about 7 percent of Australia's Catholic priests have been accused of child sexual abuse. The Anglican Church of Australia, on the other hand, reportedly had 1,100 abuse complaints from 1980 to 2015.

Some abusers have admitted their crimes via a Church confession, knowing that they would not be reported to the police. The commission said there were also some perpetrators who repeated their crimes and then asked for forgiveness once again.