National

Vic wants to force clergy to report abuse

By AAP Newswire

Melbourne's most senior Catholic says he will go to jail rather than inform police if someone told him during confession that they had sexually abused a child.

Instead, Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli wants priests to have protections similar to journalists' sources and lawyers and their clients.

New laws introduced into Victoria's parliament on Wednesday will make it mandatory for religious leaders - alongside police, teachers, medical practitioners and early childhood workers - to report suspicions of abuse.

The laws would bring Victoria into line with a number of other states and territories.

"I don't think in contemporary and mainstream times, knowing what we know now, that we can do anything other than say the rights of children trump anyone's religious views," Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told reporters on Wednesday.

"Ultimately, this is about making sure that we start to right the wrongs of systemic abuse."

Under the laws, priests and religious leaders face up to three years' jail if they don't report child physical and sexual abuse allegations.

Archbishop Comensoli told ABC radio he was prepared to go to jail rather than break the confessional seal.

He said if someone admitted to child abuse during confession he would convince them to go to the authorities and ask them to 'fess up' outside the confessional so he could report it.

"The presumption here is that I know who's there in front of me. That's not the practice of confession," Archbishop Comensoli said.

He added he had practised mandatory reporting for years outside confession, as it was a requirement during his previous posting in NSW.

In a statement, Archbishop Comensoli urged the government not to infringe on religious freedoms.

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

Clergy are already subject to mandatory reporting laws in South Australia and the Northern Territory, while Western Australia and Tasmania have announced plans to compel religious leaders to disclose knowledge of abuse.

Victoria's reforms will also allow survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the Supreme Court to overturn "unfair" compensation settlements previously signed with churches.

Chrissie Foster, who fought for years for compensation after her two girls were abused by a Catholic priest, pointed to the case of priest Michael McArdle, who told 30 priests he had abused children 1500 times before being jailed in 2003.

"There's no excuse that they did not stop this," Ms Foster said.

"This is children being raped for decades, centuries. It's astounding, unbelievable."

Victoria's Liberal-National opposition has previously indicated it would back the laws, but Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien wants to see the details.