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Mandatory reporting laws and Seal of Confession not mutually exclusive, says Melbourne archbishop

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Archbishop Comensoli assures that he won't betray the sacrament, urges government to focus on measures that will actually help children.

The Victoria government in Australia is proposing to expand its mandatory reporting legislation to include religious ministers, a move that in itself is being welcomed by the Melbourne archbishop. However, mandatory reporting and the Seal of Confession are not mutually exclusive, he says.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli emphasized that the expansion of mandatory reporting was something that the Church in Victoria requested already several years ago, saying the responsibility to protect children is a “Gospel imperative.”

However, the legislation cannot impinge on the Seal of Confession, he stressed.

“Confession doesn’t place people above the law,” he said. “Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer-client relationship and protection for journalists’ sources.”

Archbishop Comensoli added that “for Catholics, Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality.”

As well, he noted that Confession most often happens anonymously. Priests rarely know the identity of who is confessing.

The archbishop in fact assured Radio Melbourne earlier this week that he’ll be keeping the Seal of Confession.

He lamented that other recommendations that came from the 2017 Royal Commission investigation were much more effective than their recommendation to abolish the Seal. For example, the investigation also recommended training to recognize and prevent abuse, and other elements that the archbishop said would give much more effective results in actually protecting children.

But, the archbishop remarked, the crusade to attempt to abolish the Seal, has become “nearly the all.”

“I urge the Government to focus on stronger protection for children,” he said, “not on infringing on religious liberty.”

The Melbourne media office noted that the archbishop has operated under mandatory reporting regulation in other states, and with this experience, maintains his commitment to both things, the mandatory reporting, and the sacramental seal.

“The two areas are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

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