SYDNEY - The Catholic Church in Australia on Friday rejected laws forcing priests to report child abuse when they learn about it in the confessional, setting the stage for a showdown between the country’s biggest religion and the government.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), the country’s top Catholic body, said it did not accept a recommendation from an official inquiry into church abuse, which would force priests by law to report abuse to the police when they hear about it in confession.
Two of the country’s eight states have since introduced laws making it a crime for priests to fail to report abuse heard in the confessional, while other states have said they are considering their response.
“The Council ... continues to support retention of the civil law protection for the seal of the confessional,” the ACBC said in a report published Friday.
Last year, Australia completed a five-year government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.
The inquiry heard that 7 percent of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and that nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church in 35 years.