It is not a common event in Australia for the individual states and Federal attorneys-general to quickly and easily standardise new laws. The individual states are most recalcitrant in these matters, jealously guarding their own turf like poker players peering out over a set of grimy and over-handled cards. But for some reason the proposed laws to make it a requirement for Catholic priests to break the seal of the confessional if child abusers admit their actions went through without nary a murmur.
The lawmakers tested the lay of the land with the George Pell case, and when that didn’t cause a public uproar they knew that this was the time to strike.
The law changes agreed upon by the attorneys-general fall under the responsibility of state and territory governments and were recommended by the 2013 royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
The principles the attorneys-general agreed upon include that “confessional privilege” cannot be relied upon to avoid a child protection or criminal obligation to report beliefs, suspicions or knowledge of child abuse. They also dictate that clergy would not be able to use that defence to avoid giving evidence against a third party in criminal or civil proceedings.
The unified position means priests across Australia would be required to break the seal of confession in cases of child abuse.
Work on such laws is already well under way in most states and territories. They were introduced in Victoria in August, but legal expert Luke Beck said this would implement a nationwide standard. “Some states are already in compliance with this and they don’t have to do anything else,” said Mr Beck, an associate professor at Monash University.
“Now, all have signed up and said ‘yes, we’re going to do it’.”
Of course, this is only the beginning. It’s child abuse cases right now, which is understandable as we must always think of the children even if it means throwing away such sacred objects as the confessional. But next down the line it will be someone who was mean to gays and before you know it the cat will be right out of the bag.
The incredible thing is that nobody has really commented as far as I can tell on who this law will specifically target. It’s not child abusers, that’s for sure. The real targets for this law are the priests themselves. This is an outright attack on the Catholic Church, make no mistake about it.
Think about it this way; the only way in which the law would discover if a priest had not reported a child abuser in his confessional is if the child abuser himself reported the matter to police. Now there are only two circumstances that I can identify that an admitted child abuser would dob in a priest, because we must keep in mind that by doing so the child abuser damns himself in the process.
In the first instance the child abuser has been caught and wishes to reduce his sentence by plea bargaining. All he has to do is dob in his local priest for not reporting him when he made his confession. From a legal standpoint it could then be argued that the child abuse committed after that moment was the fault of the priest, since if he had reported it to the proper authorities it would have been prevented.
Would proof of the accused visiting the confessional be required? The last time I went there was no day-book to sign before confessing my sins. Of course the priest never saw me, and nor I him.
The second example would be a stitch-up; a fake child abuser sent to a confessional to see whether or not the priest would report it. Of course, the defense would argue entrapment but remember that the process is the punishment. This law is designed to get priests second guessing their actions in the confessional. A few fake examples to ruffle the feathers and then priests would find themselves in a bind.
Freedom of speech is mindlessly crowed by just about everyone these days, but the historical precedent for freedom of speech was the separation of the Church and State. This action meant that the State could not bully the Church if religious leaders found that political leaders needed to be criticised. Likewise, the actions of the Church were apart from that of petty politics. It was one of the major events that helped define Western civilization and we are beginning the process to throw it away.
In all honesty I feel that this will be good for the Church in the long term. The Church always does quite well when it is being actively persecuted by the State and now we see that beginning in Australia. Always look on the bright side of life and all that. It will now be up to individual priests to hold fast in the face of these blasphemous laws and for their bishops to back them to the hilt. And we also have a part to play; the congregations must also publicly stand fast. Being a Christian counts when it’s all going against you, so what an exciting time it is to be alive.
Let the battle begin.