As part of the report, the commission made numerous recommendations, such as changes to Australia’s criminal justice system and various recommendations for the Catholic Church, “many of which will have a significant impact on the way the Catholic Church operates in Australia,” the bishops said in their statement.
However, among some of the controversial recommendations are that priests should be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, and that they should face criminal charges if they refuse to do so.
In a statement in August, Hart stressed the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of confession while also ensuring that children are protected.
“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Hart said in an Aug. 14 statement.
Confession “is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries,” he said. “It must remain so here in Australia…(but) outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”
Additionally, the report recommended that the Catholic Church make celibacy an optional requirement of the priesthood, rather than a mandatory one, because while celibacy is not a cause of child abuse, the commission considered it a contributing factor when combined with other risk factors, according to the BBC.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told the Guardian that changing the celibacy requirement is not the solution to the abuse crisis.
“We know very well that institutions who have celibate clergy and institutions that don’t have celibate clergy both face these problems. We know very well that this happens in families that are certainly not observing celibacy,” he said.
The Holy See also responded to the report, saying in a statement on Friday that it “deserves to be studied seriously.”
“The Holy See remains committed to being close to the Catholic Church in Australia – lay faithful, religious, and clergy alike – as they listen to and accompany victims and survivors in an effort to bring about healing and justice,” the Vatican statement said.
“In his recent meeting with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis said the Church is called to be a place of compassion, especially for those who have suffered, and reaffirmed that the Church is committed to safe environments for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”
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At the end of the statement from the Australian bishop’s conference, the Church leaders restated their commitment to making amends for past abuse, and called on state governments to aid them in this task.
“Both leaders said the Church will continue to push for the introduction of a national redress scheme for the survivors of child sexual abuse in which the Church will participate.”
Philip Freier, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, apologized for “the shameful way we sometimes actively worked against and discouraged those who came to us and reported abuse.”