Church calls for new law on child abuse

Church calls for new law on child abuse

The Catholic Church has called for a law making it a crime if anyone suspects a child has been sexually abused and does not report it to police.

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The new law should also clarify professional privilege and confidentiality including that of priests in the confessional, Francis Sullivan CEO of the church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council told AAP.

The council is co-ordinating the response of the Catholic Church to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Mr Sullivan said on Wednesday the council had made a submission to the commission recommending a national criminal law requiring anyone with a reasonable belief a child had been sexually abused to disclose what they knew to police.

And he said no one should be exempt from the law which would go beyond current mandatory reporting requirements.

Under the new law the only circumstance in which reporting would not be required was if the person had a reasonable excuse, “such as where the person believes the allegations have already been reported under mandatory reporting laws”, he said.

He did not think priests in the confessional should be covered as this came under professional privilege but this too needed clarification, he told AAP.

The TJHC submission was made in response to an issues paper on criminal justice including police and prosecution responses to child abuse, prepared by the commission

In a statement, Mr Sullivan said nationally consistent police reporting legislation would enhance a consistent, trauma-sensitive approach to survivors of child sexual abuse.

He told AAP that for too long people had been operating under unclear laws.

“The problem we have got in the royal commission and elsewhere is that the law has not been clear,” he said.

“Unless a law can be explicit and clear we are going to continue to have situations where people are going to be confused or criticised for not taking matters to the police.”

The royal commission is yet to publish submissions on the prosecution and police issues paper.