Page 2191 - Week 06 - Thursday, 7 June 2018

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I know that churches have been doing a lot work to safeguard children, and the government needs to be talking to them about that work. I also know that the Catholic Archdiocese here in Canberra was perplexed that it was not included in the original reportable conduct scheme and has been working for some time for this day to come about.

But that having been said, we need to take a bit of a breath, from my point of view, and I, like Mr Wall, would like to acknowledge the latitude that has been granted to me by my party room to express a personal view in relation to the seal of the confessional. I do not believe that the government has been up-front enough in consulting the Catholic Church, the Catholic archbishop and other groups in the community for whom the seal of the confessional is of particular importance.

I understand that the government is keen to implement the recommendations of the royal commission with regard to confession but I do not believe this is the best way to do that. The royal commission recommended that territories have a consistent reportable conduct scheme based on the New South Wales approach. That is in recommendation 7.9. The New South Wales approach, recommended by the commission, does not currently include religious confession. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in April that the seal of the confessional should be assessed by the Council of Australian Governments. Ms Berejiklian said:

Our response to that recommendation is to take it through the COAG process, we believe that is the best way to deal with it … They’re complex issues that need to be balanced with what people believe to be religious freedoms.

I believe the government should have taken the same approach as New South Wales and taken this matter up through COAG before dealing with the issue of religious confession, as it has done in this bill.

It is important that we respect the values of communities. The Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn was instrumental in ensuring that the ACT government included religious institutions in its reportable conduct scheme. In the Catholic Church confession is sacred, sacramental and sacrosanct. And we need to stop and think twice before we pass legislation that requires Catholic priests to break the seal of the confessional. This is for two important reasons. Within the Catholic community, approximately 25 per cent of the Australian population, there is a clear understanding that a priest will never reveal what has been spoken about in the sacrament of confession. This would be to break the seal of the confession and he would incur automatic excommunication.

This is why so many priests have spoken out about this issue and why for instance Father Frank Brennan SJ has said that he would break the law rather than the seal of the confessional. It is important to understand that this is the clear understanding of both the one who comes to the sacrament of confession and the priest who hears the confession. In other words legislation would contravene the legitimate rights of the Catholic community.

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