Our Opinion

State versus Church (and maybe the Law)

Last week, the Courier Mail published an on-line opinion piece by PeakCare’s Lindsay Wegener, which we gather from correspondence that we have received has hit a raw nerve for some.

Lindsay’s commentary was about the looming battle between Church and State over the proposed laws that will force Catholic priests to report child abuse disclosed to them in the confessional, in keeping with a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The first few punches have been thrown with the Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge publicly declaring his intention to challenge these laws.

With the Church in one corner and the State in the other preparing to fight it out, the Law Society has now also made it clear that it is warming up outside the ring and ready to jump in.

In Lindsay’s article, he warns that this is a battle that may spill out well beyond the confines of the confessional or indeed, the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. Most importantly, he queries whether in the battle of the heavy-weights – the Church, the State and the Law – the voices of children and families will be heard over the din.

Click here to read the article online or you can read a transcript of it by clicking here. Then let us know what you think by entering your comments below – anonymously if you prefer. Has the article also hit on a raw nerve for you?

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  1. Name withheld on January 29, 2020 at 9:00 am

    I’m not sure whose raw nerves were hit – people representing the State, the Church or the Law?

  2. Anon on January 29, 2020 at 9:16 am

    My question is – why are these people confessing? Do they believe that will absolve them of their guilt, in which case they are free to then perpetrate again, as long as they keep confessing, knowing their confidence will be maintained? What about the rights of the victims who have suffered at the hands of these people? What about their rights? I am struggling to understand how organisations who are supposed to be helping people keep their faith, especially in these times of significant upheaval, then turn around and say that if someone confesses they have committed crimes against a child, that persons confidence is more important than the safety and rights of that child. These people are doing the wrong thing and committing those victims to a lifetime of suffering, yet the perpetrators are protected. I believe once you commit a crime against another human you lose your right to confidentiality.

  3. Carol Ronken on January 29, 2020 at 10:09 am

    Last year I put together a position statement for our organisation on this very issue. Here are parts of that:
    “… One of the greatest challenges for organisations seeking to address concerns of child sexual assault is the need to understand and overcome the silence, secrecy, and shame that surrounds this crime… Child sexual assault strongly relies on silence; in order to keep offending perpetrators need secrecy. Within organisations this can operate at two levels, (1) silencing of victims and (2) silence within the organisation.
    … Those who oppose the proposed changes to law argue that confession is considered to be a central tenet of Catholicism, as well as other religions, including Judaism, Anglican, Orthodox and Lutheran churches; with Catholic Canon Law stating that: ‘The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason: Can. 983 §1’.
    … This antiquated approach is unacceptable when we are discussing the protection of children and young people from sexual assault and the devastating and long-term impacts that the crime has, on not just the victim, but their family and often the community. The need for churches to reform and evolve from this ‘tradition’ is clear if there is to be a zero-tolerance for child sexual assault and no sanctuary for child sex offenders….”

    The way many religious organisations (not just the Catholic church) have ‘dealt with’ known/suspected sex offenders within their organisations has proven time and time again to not be effective in protecting children and young people or addressing/preventing offending behaviour. The only way to protect children and young people from known offenders is to (1) have the system set up to deal with them notified and supported in doing their job (I am aware that the criminal justice system has its own faults) and (2) engage with those who have the experience, knowledge and skills to work with offenders and increase the likelihood of offenders managing pro-offending thoughts and behaviours. The duty to report and protect children from harm absolutely extends to religious institutions and to the confessional.

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