CQ Bishop’s controversial comments over child sex abuse laws
LAWYERS have slammed the comments made by Rockhampton Bishop Michael McCarthy that the seal of confession is more important than the law when it comes to child sexual abuse.
New laws were passed in Queensland last week which can result in priests being jailed if they fail to report confessions of child sexual abuse.
The law, passed in Queensland parliament on September 8, means religious institutions and their members are no longer protected by the seal of the confessional as a defence in child sex abuse matters.
The laws had support from both major parties and arose from recommendations in 2015 from the Royal Commissions into child sexual abuse.
The state parliament rejected strong opposition and protests from the Catholic Church.
Priests face a three-year jail sentence if they fail to comply.
The law applies to information received from now, including about abuse that occurred in the past.
Similar laws exist in South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.
The Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton leader Bishop McCarthy was unclear if he would be encouraging his priests to follow the new law.
Bishop McCarthy spoke with ABC Capricornia and said Rome had not changed its view and priests were not allowed to break the seal of confession within the Catholic Church.
"That is what we have all promised and what we have signed up to do," he told ABC Capricornia.
"It's a real dilemma that we have the state law that has been passed and it has been passed in other jurisdictions now."
He went on to say he would be spending some time with his priests "as to how do we put this into practice in the future."
Bishop McCarthy did say he encouraged people who were confessing to talk to the police.
"We all follow the law and certainly one of the great challenges of the Royal Commission has been to ensure that we all follow the law and make our churches the safest place we can for our children," he said.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Queensland head of Abuse Law Jed McNamara has rejected these comments, stating no institution is above the law.
Mr McNamara said this was extremely important legislation for the protection of children and the Queensland Government was to be commended for joining other states in acting on this.
It is long known that any medical doctors have to legally report abuse if they suspect it.
"Plenty of professions, including doctors and health professionals, have long had obligations to report instances of abuse," Mr McNamara said.
"It was as a key recommendation of the Royal Commission that admissions of abuse made through the confessional be reported, there is absolutely no excuse for Catholic Church clergy to not be held to the same standards as other professions in ensuring the safety of children is made a priority.
"Sadly however the Catholic Church and others have continued to stubbornly resist this important reform."
Mr McNamara previously acted for a man abused by Rockhampton priest Michael McArdle.
Mr McArdle, who retired from priesthood in 2000, was jailed in 2004 for six years for 62 assaults against boys and girls over a 22 year period.
Mr McNamara cited Mr McArdle's affidavit where he revealed he confessed his crimes 1500 times to 30 different priests over a 25 year period.
The Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton has been contacted for further comment.