Enacted in the wake of the Royal Commission, the redress scheme forces institutions to counsel and compensate child abuse survivors. Those who don’t join will be shamed publicly.
The institutions that fail to sign up for the national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse will be made public and will be purportedly be stripped of charity status and/or their tax exemptions. Those yet to sign-up include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Yeshiva Centre and the Yeshiva College Bondi, Australian Indigenous Ministries, the Catholic Order of Friars Minor Conventual, the Catholic Resurrection Sisters, the Fairbridge Society, Football NSW, Swimming Australia and Tennis NSW.
The scheme was instituted in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Institutions involved in the program will be required to provide counselling to abuse survivors, offer a personal apology and a payment up to $150,000.
Social services minister, Anne Ruston, took to the media today, and said that failure to join would be “reprehensible”.
In its final report, the commission recommended that the criminal offence of failing to report child sexual abuse to be created. And its 35th recommendation was that this offence applies to priests who fail to report incidents of child abuse divulged during confessions.
In August of last year, Victorian Parliament debated a bill on whether religious ministers should be forced to disclose child abuse admitted in confidence to a priest.
The Victorian Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 follows the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2017, which revealed the many failures of churches to report allegations of child abuse.
But the proposed law reform has sparked strong opposition from some religious ministers. Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he would rather go to jail than report a person who confessed to committing child sexual abuse. He said: “I will speak to the person there and then about how they will need to, one, go to the police about this and two, I’d be asking at the end of the confession to then repeat what they said outside of the seal so that I can then act.”
And Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan told the ABC that even the Melbourne Archbishop, the state’s most senior Catholic, is not above the law. He said: “If people break the law they would be prosecuted.”
Comensoli is just one of many priests who said they are “willing to go to jail” rather than break the seal. Others, however, have shown support for the law. Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said: “It’s pretty simple: if you think a child is being abused, you have to report it. And we’re committed to driving this cultural change to make Victoria safer for our children.”
But the response from some priests has shown that reporting confessions is not that simple. Some refuse to break the seal, seeing the law as an attack on religious freedom.
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy has rejected the “religious liberty” argument, claiming: “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.”
Chrissie Foster, an advocate for anti-abuse, actively has publicly welcomed the proposed law. Her two children were sexually abused by a Catholic priest, and she has described the proposed law as a “breakthrough” and says politicians backing the law should be “congratulated”.
Arguably, if priests had not been exempted from mandatory reporting laws, many sexual abuses could have been prevented.
For instance, consider the case of Michael McArdle, who confessed to 30 priests he had sexually abused children up to 1,500 times.
Complying with the confessional seal, the priests did not report the abuses and instead allegedly advised McArdle to “pray more”.