View Comments
Archbishop: I won t breach confession
Tim Costelloe. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

The head of the Catholic Church in Perth warns that forcing priests to report sex offenders could be counterproductive and still put children at risk.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe told _The Weekend West _ yesterday that the confidentiality of the confession box may be the only way of getting predators to admit and deal with their crimes.

In the wake of Julia Gillard announcing a national royal commission this week into child sex abuse, a raft of politicians - including the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Premier Colin Barnett - said priests had a responsibility to pass on claims of child sex abuse to the authorities.

In WA, priests are not bound by the same mandatory reporting requirements as teachers, doctors, nurses and police.

The commission is also expected to consider whether religious confessions should continue to be legally privileged, raising the prospect that priests could be jailed if they refuse to answer questions about admissions made to them.

Archbishop Costelloe said he believed no Catholic priest would "violate this serious and binding obligation".

"I certainly will not," he said, adding priests did not often know the identity of the person confessing their sins because the confessional was anonymous.

Archbishop Costelloe said one of the reasons why Catholics were prepared to confess their sins was because they knew the information would stay secret.

"No one will confess a serious crime to a priest if he or she knows that in doing so they will be reported to the police," he said.

"The imposition of the obligation of mandatory reporting of abuse confessed to a priest will mean that the one chance some offenders might have to finally confront and deal with their crime, and sin, is lost to them. This does not seem to be a good way to protect vulnerable children."

Archbishop Costelloe said the issue of mandatory reporting outside the confessional was also complex because many people who approached the Church may want to preserve their privacy.

Victims who came forward, even decades after the event, were encouraged to report these crimes to the police and offered help to do so.

"This is certainly the Church's preferred option. However, people's rights in this matter must also be respected," Archbishop Costelloe said. The archbishop, who has pledged to co-operate with the royal commission, said the recruitment and training of new priests was being reviewed, while priests moving to Perth from interstate or overseas required a clearance from their local bishop.

"No one can guarantee that it will never happen again but we are putting into place a wide variety of structures, policies and programs which will make it very difficult, and hopefully impossible, for people who would abuse children to find a place within our Church," Archbishop Costelloe said.