“We have to step in.” Lisa Wilkinson and Waleed Aly clash on The Project.

lisa wilkinson the project child abuse laws

Waleed Aly and Lisa Wilkinson went head-to-head on The Project last night, in a passionate debate over proposed laws that would require priests to report child sex abuse disclosed during confession.

Currently, religious ministers are not part of Victoria’s mandatory reporting laws, but that may soon change. The state’s government has vowed to consider dismantling the sanctity of confession as part of its response to the 409 recommendations of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

If passed, the laws would follow similar legislation enacted by the South Australian government last month, which will see clergy face a $10,000 fine if they fail to report admissions of child sexual abuse made in the confessional.

On Wednesday night’s episode of The Project, Wilkinson said such legislation is a no-brainer.

“There are children, many, many generations of children, who have suffered at the hands of priests who know better,” she said.

But Aly was less convinced.

The 39-year-old academic/writer said he failed to understand how such a law could “actually stop any of this from happening”.

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“I’m not a Catholic. I have no interest in defending the confession or the institution of the confession or whatever, but breaking the seal of confession for them — not for me or you, but for them — is an ex-communicable offence. It means eternal damnation for them,” he said.

“So now you are giving them a choice between eternal damnation or a $10,000 fine. I just can’t see any of them making the decision to avoid a $10,000 fine for the sake of that.”

Wilkinson hit back, arguing that such a law “removes the perpetrator’s chance of absolution”.

“What’s the alternative? You can’t let it continue. The Church has been a rule unto itself, and we have generation after generation of damaged humans. And in the end, if children – if altar boys, in particular – are seen as prey for priests then we have to step in and in a major way,” she said.

While Aly said he agreed to the idea of “stepping in” in principal and understands the appeal of legislating for that, he said he “can’t imagine” a scenario where it works in practise.

Wilkinson responded, “I can’t imagine the Church continuing the way it has when we know what we know.”

The Victorian Government has accepted 128 Royal Commission recommendations in full and a further 165 recommendations in principle. The inclusion of religious ministers in mandatory reporting laws is one of 28 measures under consideration.

Acting Premier James Mer­lino told media on Wednesday he believed the confessional issue was best approached at a national level.

“It doesn’t make sense to have states doing different things,” he said, according to The Australian.

“Our concern first and foremost and always is the safety of children … in regards to this matter we think the best approach is a nationally consistent approach.”

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