MIA: It's a disgrace that priests don't have to report child abuse.

Mia Freedman. George Pell.


Is there any crime more heinous than child abuse? If there is, I don’t want to know about it.

Legally, every Australian who suspects or knows about a case of child abuse is required by law to report it to the police.

It’s mandatory.

Unless you’re a Catholic priest and someone tells you about child abuse in the confessional, in which case you’re totally free to do nothing.

No need to mention it.

Even if the abuse is still occurring.

Even if a child – or children – are in danger of further abuse.

Even if a child’s life has been destroyed and nobody is able to help them because they are too frightened, ashamed and traumatised by the abuse to say anything.

Priests are not bound by the same laws as the rest of society – including doctors, teachers and counsellors. So the church is effectively a safehouse for pedophiles who can ‘confess’ to their crimes and receive absolution without consequence.

They are then free to re-offend. Their secrets – their CRIMES – will always be kept away from authorities. They will be protected.

Surely, this is madness.

And never has this madness been highlighted so clearly as this week, when it became clear that child abuse in the Catholic Church has been so systemic over such a long period of time and has been so well covered up by so many individuals, that the Government has been forced to announce a Royal Commission into child sex abuse.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard making the Royal Commission announcement

While Julia Gillard has been politically careful to point out that the parameters of the Royal Commission are more far-reaching than just the Catholic Church (it will also look into child abuse in all institutions including schools, community groups, foster homes etc), make no mistake: this is about the Church and the literal get-out-of-jail free card they wield when it comes to protecting paedophiles.


Watching Cardinal George Pell’s press conference yesterday – the same day yet another Catholic brother was arrested in NSW for child sex offenses – was an exercise in trying not to yell at the TV.

I was struck by the sight and sound of an old, arrogant man, woefully out of touch with public attitudes towards child abuse, a man who was desperately trying to justify the ongoing and systemic crimes that have been allowed to flourish within the Church he runs.

A man seemingly without compassionate for the victims of sex abuse by people who held sacred positions of trust.

As broadcaster Derryn Hinch wrote on his blog:

This is the head of the Catholic Church in Australia who several days ago couldn’t see the point of a  federal  Royal Commission. At a press conference today Cardinal Pell said he still would not favour an investigation into the Catholic  Church alone. But welcomed a broad-based one on the basis it seems that it would show ‘we weren’t the only ones  doing it’.

He actually said today that a Royal Commission would clear things up because  ‘we object to being called the only cab on the rank’. He said it.

I felt like shouting at the TV set:  You’re not. But most of the cabs for the past forty years have been Catholic ones, and the majority of  drivers are yours and  they can’t be trusted with innocent  children’.

He even had the gall to try to make us somehow responsible  for the suffering of victims. Pell said one question had to be asked: ‘ Are victims helped by the continuing furore in the Press? Should old wounds be re-opened?

That part was truly staggering.

To suggest that victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergy would be better served by it remaining covered-up?

To suggest the media should never have aired the disturbing accusations of whistle blowers such as Senior Detective Inspector Peter Fox who stated, “I can testify from my own experience that the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church.” ?

That is simply repugnant and self-serving in the extreme.

This from News Limited:


Addressing the media in Sydney in relation to the royal commission into child sex abuse, Cardinal Pell explained church protocol for priests who confess to child sex abuse to another priest.

“If that is done outside the confessional (it can be passed on),” he said.

“(But) the Seal of Confession is inviolable.”

Is it any wonder that pedophilia has been allowed to fester, seemingly unchecked, for so many decades? The idea that victims of abuse would be better served by silence and that bringing perpetrators to justice would ‘open old wounds’ for victims is appalling.

Surely it’s time that we take away from priests the outrageous exemption from mandatory reporting of child abuse. Surely the rights of vulnerable children must transcend those of criminal adults who prey on children and have an expectation they’ll be protected by the law.

Enough. It’s time that the law was changed.

In an article for The Herald Sun yesterday, writer Susie O’Brien wrote exactly that:

We need an urgent change to state laws.

We need an urgent change to state laws to ensure mandatory reporting includes priests and other religious figures.

The church maintains that paedophiles wouldn’t confess if they knew a priest would tell the police. But so what? The entire purpose of the confessional is to absolve and pardon someone for their sins: to offer, as one priest put it, “divine forgiveness and healing”.

Enough with the coverups. Enough with the self-serving justification. And enough with Catholic priests being immune from this most basic of child protections: mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse.

Note: In the past 24 hours several politicians have also expressed their concern for the rule that allows members of the church to be exempt from the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse.

Bill Shorton said: “What immunity can you claim when it comes to the safety and protection of little children? When it comes to the abuse of children, that privilege, if it ever had validity, is well and truly exhausted.”

Christopher Pyne also said priests had a responsibility to report the crimes that are revealed to them in confession. “If a priest hears in a confessional a crime, especially a crime against a minor, the priest has the responsibility in my view to report that to the appropriate authorities,” he said.