The Illawarra’s parliamentary secretary has backed a recommendation for clergy to be stripped of the right to withhold details of child sexual abuse aired during a religious confession.
Gareth Ward tabled a notice of motion on the issue in the NSW Parliament on Tuesday – the first sitting day since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its criminal justice report on August 14.
The report made 85 recommendations, aimed at better protecting children against sexual abuse, including one that stated: “Any person associated with an institution who knows or suspects that a child is being or has been sexually abused in an institutional context should report the abuse to police”.
“There should be no exemption, excuse, protection or privilege from the offence granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession,” the Royal Commission’s report said.
Mr Ward told the Parliament he supported changes to Section 127 of the NSW Evidence Act, which would remove the right of clergy to refuse to disclose details of child sexual abuse given during a religious confession.
The Liberal Member for Kiama said child sexual abuse “doesn’t have a religion, culture or orientation” and the legal protection of it couldn’t continue.
I expect these moves will be controversial for some – but they are right.Parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra, Gareth Ward
“Australians pride ourselves on our right to religious freedom. But religious confessions offer no freedoms to survivors who live with lifelong consequences,” he said.
“I am an Anglican, I’m of faith, but I don’t believe that the Evidence Act should protect anyone from not reporting child sexual abuse.”
Mr Ward – the secretary of the bipartisan action committee for child protection advocate Bravehearts – said he believed the failure to report child sexual abuse should be a criminal offence.
“I expect these moves will be controversial for some – but they are right,” he said.
The Mercury contacted the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong on August 14 – the day the criminal justice report was released – and was told it required time to digest the 618-page document.
As of late on Tuesday, and despite further contact, no response had been received.
Australia's Catholic archbishops were divided on the issue of the Seal of the Confessional when quizzed about it during a public hearing earlier this year.