One of the highest-ranking officials in the Catholic Church has stated that he would “rather go to prison” than report pedophilia to police.Australia’s most powerful clergy, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, says he’s prepared to be jailed for failing to report child sex abuse by pedophile priests.
He made the shocking statement in response to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse saying there should be “no excuse, protection nor privilege” for clergy who failed to alert police of abuse.Hart insisted that sexual abuse was “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” and was “of a higher order” than criminal law.
A new report by the commission proposed 85 sweeping changes to the criminal justice system and recommended that priests face criminal charges for failing to report serious crimes such as sexual abuse to the police.
As the law currently stands, clergy are not legally obliged to report crimes to the police and disciplinary proceedings for criminal activity by members of the Catholic Church are handled internally by Canon law, which operates independently of the regular legal procedure.
Following an investigation by the commission, officials believe that the Catholic Church is using “confessional confidentiality” as a cover for not reporting child sex abuse to the authorities.
“We understand the significance of religious confession – in particular, the inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths, particularly the Catholic faith”, said the report.
“However, we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators.
“We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behavior in order to deal with their own guilt.
“Archbishop Hart, who’s also the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, argued that the confessional seal should remain protected from the law, saying in a statement:
“It is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the law of Australia and many other countries. It must remain so here in Australia.”Outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”