Australia: Abuse survivors protest at proposed legislation asking priests to break Seal of Confession

  • James Parker

Non-Catholic and Catholic survivors are today petitioning members of Western Australia's Legislative Council to reject proposed amendments to the Children and Community Services Act which will 'require' Catholic priests to report knowledge of child sexual abuse when received during confession.

James Parker, 52, who runs peer support groups for child abuse survivors in Western Australia, describes proposed legislation as a "betrayal of every survivor's journey of recovery."

Mr Parker said: "The Hon Simone McGurk MLA is not listening to survivors' lived realities and how our stories can help to protect children today and into the future.

"It is commonly known that perpetrators don't talk about abuse in the confessional. But many survivors do. The confessional remains the only place that a vulnerable child or adult victim can easily access without cost to talk with anonymity and privacy about their present or past trauma."

As a non-Catholic teenager, Parker used the confessional to first disclose his extensive history of childhood sexual abuse. "I was a suicidal teenager. I had no one to turn to who would let me talk at my pace and respect my need at that time for utter privacy. It was the kindness and empathy of a Catholic priest that literally saved my life."

Two decades later, Parker's witness was fundamental in convicting a serial paedophile. "Without the Seal of Confession, I would never have begun my journey of recovery, which would have left a prolific child abuser roaming free even today to continue molesting children.

"Many victims tell me they feel betrayed and want the Minister to concentrate on bolstering support for survivors rather than threatening and policing a critical private space which many survivors use and have used to find hope and healing."

Aboriginal woman, RB, a 26-year old non-Catholic, speaks of despair and being "retraumatised" by the Minister's proposals. "In 2020, where else can an Aboriginal child or teenager go within their community setting and find a totally confidential listening ear to talk to about abuse while remaining completely anonymous?

"What looks like a visible win for the government will be a complete catastrophe for survivors. This will have abusers rubbing their hands with glee. They keep winning, courtesy of the government, and the vulnerable lose once again.

"It seems to me that the State Minister for Child Protection really doesn't care. Can't she and her advisers see that this is children's lives and trauma they're messing with? It's obvious that this [amendment] will lead to more mental illness, addiction and even suicides."

27-year old survivor, SM, who is Catholic, says proposals are increasing his anxiety, making him feel "totally betrayed and abandoned by this government on so many levels."

"We the abuse victims are being frightened away from going to confession. Shouldn't the government be on our side? If we aren't strengthened inside of ourselves, which is what confession has done and does for me continually, then how are we going to start building up the confidence and courage to be able to report past crimes to the police and then have the inner strength to deal with the pressure and stress of any potential court proceedings?

"The thought of loosing [sic] the security and safety of the Seal of Confession brings me to tears. Where else do I turn? Where else will provide me with what I need to begin the process to inner healing?"

18-year old, SR, who regularly uses the confessional, says, "This is the safest place for me to talk about my past abuse. Can't we get them to stop this stupid law?"

Survivors are calling on Members of the Legislative Council to set up a Select Committee before amending the Children and Community Services Act so that their firsthand experiences can be given careful consideration; their insights into child safety and best practice can be deliberated, and their journeys of recovery can be respected rather than jeopardised by 'ill-informed politicians.'

In July 2019, the Vatican reaffirmed the inviolability of the Seal of Confession, saying that any political or legislative attempts to force priests to reveal what is said in the confessional is a violation of religious freedom. See: ICN 2 July 2019 - Vatican: Seal of Confession can never be broken -

Tags: Confession, Seal of Confession, Abuse, Australia, James Parker

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