ACT’s new child sexual abuse reporting law won’t exempt confessional

Ian Bushnell 19 February 2019 36

The ACT Government has committed to addressing every recommendation from the Royal Commission.

Catholic priests who obtain knowledge of child sexual abuse through the confessional and fail to report the information to police will be prosecuted under new laws to be introduced to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (21 February).

The laws include a new offence for failing to report child sexual abuse to the police, that will apply to all adults, subject to limited exceptions.

Late last year, the ACT Government commissioned Justice Julie Dodds-Streeton to prepare a report on how to best implement Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommendations regarding the reporting of child sexual abuse that have implications for the confessional seal.

Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the ACT Government would be introducing a suite of criminal justice reforms on Thursday following the release of this report.

The report recommended that information disclosed in a religious confession should be subject to obligations to report.

It also recommended the maximum penalty for failing to report child sexual abuse should be two years’ imprisonment.

“The Government acknowledges its responsibility to ensure that children are properly cared for, and to protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by institutions who look after them,” Mr Ramsay said.

“Justice Dodds-Streeton’s comprehensive report is based on extensive consultation with key ACT stakeholders, including church groups, police, organisations representing survivors of child sexual abuse, and a broad range of government agencies.”

He said this consultation should ensure these amendments were effective and would not have any unintended consequences.

“Developing a culture of child safety in the ACT is a key priority, and the ACT Government is working with the local community, including organisations which provide services to children, to address each and every one of the 307 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” he said.

“The work we are doing will support our community to better understand what needs to be done to protect children from harm and when people need to act and make a report to police or other authorities if they believe a child is being abused.”

The full report is available at

Meanwhile, amendments have been passed in the Assembly to strengthen child safety laws in ACT schools and bring more clarity to the responsibilities of people caring for students.

The amendments stem from the recent Future of Education conversation, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Glanfield Review, which inquired into the ACT’s child protection system.

The amended ACT Teacher Quality Institute Act 2010 will require employers to provide more information about a teacher, including conduct and disciplinary action, to the Teacher Quality Institute before a teacher is registered.

Amendments to the Act also strengthen the requirements around Working with Vulnerable People registration as a condition of their teaching status, ensuring that teachers always maintain up-to-date registration if they wish to continue teaching.

The Education Act has been amended to require non-government schools to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Education Minister Yvette Berry said that as part of the agreed Royal Commission recommendations, the Government would provide clarity on the criteria and conditions that non-government schools must meet to be registered as a non-government school in the ACT.

She said there would also be better sharing of information across jurisdictions about children and young people experiencing or at risk of family violence.

“If a child is unenrolled from school in the ACT and there are concerns for their wellbeing, the Education Directorate will confirm the move with the family and confirm enrolment in the new jurisdiction to make sure they stay connected,” she said.


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36 Responses to ACT’s new child sexual abuse reporting law won’t exempt confessional
Anthony Dentrinos Anthony Dentrinos 9:49 am 21 Feb 19

This is fine but throughout history priests have gone to jail due to keeping their religious vows. So this will be no different, but all that will happen is instead of people admitting what they are doing is wrong they keep inside not having to admit to it. What there is no study on is has confession stopped any kids from being abused. Majority of priests do not want abuse to occur and will do what they can within there vows to stop it.

Marilyn Murphy Marilyn Murphy 8:20 am 21 Feb 19

How many innocent children, have been Sexually violated in the "confession box" Margaret ?

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 5:20 pm 21 Feb 19

    Marilyn Murphy that is not the point being made here. I was relating a true story.

    Marilyn Murphy Marilyn Murphy 7:08 pm 21 Feb 19

    Margaret Freemantle no matter what "the Story" has been this institution has NEVER had the best interests of innocent children at the helm of its business, Transparency and Accountability does not exclude the men in dresses !

chewy14 chewy14 7:11 am 21 Feb 19

Does anyone actually think this will achieve anything other than making some people think they’re “doing” something?

If criminals are even using the confessional now, which is doubtful, once these laws are passed, they will stop doing so.

And you’ve potentially lost an opportunity for a priest to advise them to seek help or turn themselves in.

It’s a waste of time and may actually be detrimental.

Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 6:47 am 21 Feb 19

For another perspective- I know of a case where the priest counselled a sexual abuser in the confessional and the behaviour stopped. Had the confidentiality of the confession not been available, he would have kept abusing - this genuinely saved further tragedy.

    Lara Zangl Lara Zangl 7:05 am 21 Feb 19

    By counselled do you mean put in gaol for breaking the law?

    Can you say for 100% certain he's stopped?

    Gaol and sex offender register is the only way to save further tragedy...

    On a side note, you know all this, have you reported it to police?

    Tim Hayden Tim Hayden 10:25 am 21 Feb 19

    Margaret Freemantle if you knew the case the priest obviously broke his vow. I hope you reported it or you would be breaking the law.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 12:29 pm 21 Feb 19

    Tim Hayden It was the abuser who told this story, not the priest.

Drew Walky Drew Walky 12:01 am 21 Feb 19

Appalling that it has taken til now! Also, wouldn't it be sensible to have a law where people whose workplace requires or views favourably a vow of celibacy to not be allowed to be in the sole care of vulnerable people including children?

Joe Coppin Joe Coppin 9:34 pm 20 Feb 19

Very sensible while no one can force the priest to divulge information it will allow those with a conscience to come forward or at least say when questioned I had no choice the law says......

Karen Stratton Karen Stratton 9:28 pm 20 Feb 19

Let’s hope the legislation becomes retrospective by at least 20 years.

Cymraes Cymraes Cymraes Cymraes 9:06 pm 20 Feb 19

It should include all sexual abuse not just children.

Rita Scholl Rita Scholl 8:44 pm 20 Feb 19

As it should be

Stacey Donnelly Stacey Donnelly 7:59 pm 20 Feb 19

About time.

Jamie Horsfield Jamie Horsfield 7:08 pm 20 Feb 19

About time

David Brown David Brown 5:41 pm 20 Feb 19

Providing they dob themselves in as the confessional is not a public forum.

Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 5:18 pm 20 Feb 19

How will this be enforced? And what other crimes subject to confessional? If one crime is deemed suitable why not all?

Simon Cox Simon Cox 5:12 pm 20 Feb 19

Go Canberra!

Stephen Esdaile Stephen Esdaile 4:02 pm 20 Feb 19

But some priests will choose to break the law and how will anyone ever know? It's the whole edifice of religion and building a society around an imaginary being that has to change.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 6:41 am 21 Feb 19

    Stephen Esdaile says you!

    Stephen Esdaile Stephen Esdaile 8:28 am 21 Feb 19

    Some priests have already said that they would ignore any law that made them disclose confessions of sexual assaults. If that's how you religion works then the sooner it dies out the better.

Blen_Carmichael Blen_Carmichael 2:47 pm 20 Feb 19

The confessional amendments are symbolic only. Where’s the evidence that’s going to substantiate it?

    justin heywood justin heywood 6:19 pm 20 Feb 19

    It will achieve precisely SFA against child abuse. But it will please the bigots.

Kevin Read Kevin Read 2:09 pm 20 Feb 19

In a secular society no one should be above the law

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 5:18 pm 20 Feb 19


    Martin Wittmann Martin Wittmann 1:04 am 21 Feb 19

    Kevin Read except those that make the law and those that enforce the law and those that interpret the law; I’m sure you meant ; surely you can’t believe it also applies to them

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 5:13 pm 21 Feb 19

    No...we are a pluralist society made up of many asircts, including religious and spiritual. A secular society would not have then. Thus we are pluralist.

Fi Gilmore Fi Gilmore 1:45 pm 20 Feb 19

A bit late for some victims but hopefully will save some others.

Maree Anne Pavloudis Maree Anne Pavloudis 1:24 pm 20 Feb 19

About time

Kay Jones Kay Jones 1:01 pm 20 Feb 19

About time

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