Page 2192 - Week 06 - Thursday, 7 June 2018
The proposed legislation is also impractical and thus would have no effect. Because a priest is bound by a sacred oath never to reveal what has been spoken about in the sacrament of confession, he would never be able to defend himself should he be accused of not complying with the law. It would be his silence against the word of another. There would be no witnesses.
To this day many confessions that are heard in Catholic communities are anonymous—that is, the priest hears the confession without seeing the one confessing and does not know the identity of the person. It would be impossible for a priest to report any matter and thus comply with the law.
For these two reasons, a law which requires priests to break the seal of the confession would be unworkable and ineffective. And worse, the practical effect of that would be to reduce the trust of the faithful in the sacrament of confession. Priests, like other professionals, are bound to report child abuse when the matter is raised outside the confessional and this is the normal course of events, given the heightened awareness of child abuse in communities through educational initiatives.
For this reason, my belief is that the government should be engaging with the faith communities about how to best ensure reportable conduct in all avenues rather than concentrating on an aspect which will be, at best, almost impossible to implement and, worse, will undermine faith in the religious communities who hold so much store in a sacramental element of their faith which has a millennia of history behind it and hundreds of years of common law practice behind it.
I just want to reinforce my appreciation to my colleagues for allowing the latitude to speak on this personal issue in relation to this bill and to reinforce that I am wholly in support of the reportable conduct scheme, as shown by my vote in the past. And I am wholly in support of its extension to religious organisations.
MR BARR (Kurrajong—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Minister for Tourism and Major Events) (12.17), in reply: I would like to thank members for their contributions and indeed for their support of this bill. I take the opportunity today to commend the religious organisations and other key stakeholders for contributing to the development of this bill.
Members would be aware that the ACT reportable conduct scheme started on 1 July 2017 after receiving unanimous support in this place. The scheme allows for scrutiny of the way employers respond to misconduct involving children and also ensures the ACT Ombudsman is aware of every allegation of certain types of employee misconduct involving children.
The government is committed to continuously improving and strengthening this scheme, which is why we committed to expanding the scope of the scheme to cover religious institutions. We recognised this need prior to the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handing down its final report.