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Social justice firm says bishop’s comments put children at risk of sexual assault

Lawyers have condemned a Queensland bishop who encouraged priests to break new laws and risk prison time rather than break the “seal of confession” to report suspected or known cases of sexual abuse against children to police.

user iconNaomi Neilson 16 September 2020 SME Law
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Social justice firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has slammed Bishop Michael McCarthy over his comments encouraging priests to break new laws and risk a three-year prison sentence rather than break the confessional seal to report child sexual abuse to police.

Under changes passed into law in Queensland, priests can be jailed if they fail to report confessions of child sexual abuse. The new legislation means that priests are not able to use the confessional as a defence or excuse in child sexual abuse matters. 

Mr McCarthy, leader of the Diocese of Rockhampton, claimed that as Rome continued to use the defence, priests in Australia should ignore the laws: “It’s a real dilemma that we have the state law that has been passed and has been passed in other jurisdictions now. However, confession is conversation between that person and God.” 


Maurice Blackburn Lawyers’ Queensland head of abuse law Jed McNamara noted the Catholic Church’s position in resisting the change is “untenable” and that no institution should be “above the law”, especially when it comes to the abuse of children. 

“Plenty of professions – including doctors and health professionals – have long had the obligation to report instances of abuse,” Mr McNamara said, adding it is important that the legislation is used to protect children. “Sadly however, the Catholic Church and the others have continued to stubbornly resist this important reform.”

The firm represented a man who was abused by Rockhampton priest and paedophile Michael McArdle – who was jailed for six years for 62 assaults over 22 years. The firm explained that in his affidavit, Mr McArdle revealed he had confessed his crimes 1,500 times to 30 different priests over a 25-year period, but nothing ever came of it. 

“It was a key recommendation of the royal commission that admissions of abuse that are made through the confessional be reported. There is absolutely no excuse for the Catholic Church clergy to not be held to the same standards as the other professions in ensuring the safety of children is made a priority,” Mr McNamara said.

It comes as Maurice Blackburn welcomed the Tasmania government’s announcement that there will be an independent inquiry into the Department of Education’s response to and handling of sexual abuse claims between the 1970s and early 2000s. 

According to reports, the department’s senior staff protected some known paedophiles by moving them around different schools and allowing the abuse to continue. 

“Disturbingly, the historic actions of the Tasmanian Department of Education in many ways mirror the actions of the Catholic Church in Australia, which has shown to have protected its paedophile priests in a similar way,” Mr McNamara said. 

“It’s shocking to think this was happening in the public education system.”

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