Clergy who fail to report child abuse heard in confession should be charged – the royal commission

Clergy who refuse to report sexual abuse of minors, because the information was received during a religious confession may face charges if the recommendations for the new institutional offences are accepted.

The abuse royal commission wants that the failure to report the sexual abuse of minors in institutions, to be a criminal offence, extending to the information given in the different religious confessions.

The people in the institutions that know, suspect or should have reason to suspect a child is sexually abused and fail to act should face criminal charges, it says in the criminal justice report released Monday.

The court system is unfair and traumatic for the child victims of sexual abuse, the inquiry chair says

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Stephen Woods – who was abused by notorious pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale and the pedophile convicted brother Robert Charles Best, while a student at St Alipius primary school in Ballarat– he commended the commission for the recommendation, but said that it was too late.

“The victims have always been claiming that there is no logical reason, none, that child abuse should never be hidden,” he told Guardian Australia.

“It is the most heinous criminal you can imagine, and for a religion to declare that it is their right to hide is the most disgusting topic. Is immoral”.

In their report, the commissioners said they understood the meaning of the religious confession and the inviolability of the confessional seal, to persons of some religions, especially the Catholic faith.

“However, we have heard evidence of a number of cases in which the disclosure of sexual abuse of minors have been made in the religious confession, both victims and perpetrators,” the report said.

“We are satisfied that the confession is a forum in which the Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse, and where the clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their guilt.”

There was a significant risk that the authors may continue with their offending if they have not been reported to the police, the royal commission, he said.

The clergy who has received during a religious confession that an adult associated with the institution is abused sexually or was sexually abused as a child should have no exemption or privilege of the failure to report the crime, he concluded.

As part of the 85 recommendations for reform of the criminal justice system, the commission also wants the current law was amended to facilitate the eligibility and cross-admissibility of tendency and coincidence evidence and further joint experiments in the field of child abuse.

The commissioners have also recommended the extension of laws that differ between states and territories about the requirement of a complaint of sexual abuse or suspicion of abuse. They want those who should know the abuse of being criminally responsible, rather than just those who knew or suspected abuse was happening but did not go to the authorities.

“While the current New South Wales and Victorian offences that require knowledge or belief that the abuse was committed, we have recommended that the failure to report the offence applies where a person in the institution knows, suspects or should have suspected that a child is or has been the victim of sexual abuse,” the report said.

“In line with the standard of criminal negligence, the offence may be committed on the basis of the fact that the person should have reason to suspect only where there is a large fall short of what would be expected of a reasonable person.”

The chief executive officer of Care Leavers Australia Network, Leonie Sheedy, whose organisation represents children who were victims of historical child sexual abuse in out-of-home care, he said that religion should never take precedence over the right of a child to be safe.

For the people who were in state care and who are removed from their parents and placed in churches and charities and orphanages, the heads of these organisations had a duty of care to ensure that children do not suffer further, he said.

“They should face criminal charges. These organizations paid to look after the children. The heads of these organizations must be vigilant in every moment. children need to be protected are Australia’s greatest asset.”

The commission recommended that the offence applies to any adult who owns or operates or who is a member of staff or volunteer of an entity, or who otherwise requires a Working with Children Check the game for their role, but not to individual foster carers and kinship carers

Australian Associated Press