Report abuse confessions call

Child protection groups deplore convention of Church silence.

The West Australian/January 13, 2004
By Griffin Longley

Perth, Western Australia -- Revelations yesterday that a Queensland paedophile priest confessed more than 1500 times to sexually abusing boys without being brought to justice, has appalled child support groups and spurred renewed calls for mandatory reporting of sexual abuse against children in WA.

Michael Joseph McArdle confessed to the abuse weekly or fortnightly to about 30 priests over 25 years, without his crimes being disclosed to the authorities, according to an affidavit from the jailed former priest.

Hetty Johnston, spokeswoman for victims of sex abuse support group Bravehearts, said the veil of sanctity over religious confessionals was aiding and abetting priests preying on children, and should be cracked open under nationally uniform mandatory reporting laws.

WA is the only Australian State without mandatory reporting laws, but Community Development Minister Sheila McHale said yesterday that worldwide evidence did not show they helped protect children.

"Under the new criminal screening legislation all clergy and others working with children will be checked for convictions and charges," Ms McHale said.

The former director of Voices , an advocacy group for the 220 men abused by the Christian Brothers between 1947 and 1961, said transparency among the clergy was crucial to the protection of children.

Advocates for Survivors of Child Abuse [ASCA] spokeswoman Michelle Stubbs said McArdle's case showed the need for mandatory reporting in all States. State School Teachers Union president Pat Byrne said it was absurd that priests should be exempt from standards of reporting expected from the other caring professions.

Friars Joe Parkinson and Walter Black, of the L.J.Goody Bioethics Centre, said the seal of the confessional was absolute in the Catholic faith but priests were entitle to impose conditions on a penitent.

"Such an approach would include the information that the victim can approach the police of the offender's religious superior."

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