Politician Wants Catholic Churches to Post Signs Warning Children of Danger

Melbourne City Council member Nic Frances Gilley has introduced a proposal to require Catholic churches to comply with the province of Victoria's new mandatory abuse reporting laws or have signs posted outside warning parents that the houses of worship might pose a danger to children.

The Age reports that Gilley is requesting the state "write to all churches and places of worship requesting assurances that all staff and associates will abide by the law of mandatory reporting," and if they do not provide those assurances the state should erect appropriate signage.

In September, Victoria passed the Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019, which added religious leaders to the list of individuals who are legally mandated to report child abuse to the authorities when they learn about it. That list already included police, teachers, nurses, midwives and other occupations.

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Ave Maria Oratory Glenn Nagel / Getty Images

Many Catholic leaders are protesting the law because it includes abuse admitted within the space of the confessional. In July, the Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary released a statement pushing back against it, saying that "Any political action or legislative initiative aimed at breaking the inviolability of the sacramental seal would constitute an unacceptable offence against the (freedom of the Church)."

Gilley said it was the government's responsibility to "clearly advise people of the risks of using such institutions."

Councilor Gilley has a personal stake in this conversation. He was an Anglican priest for 23 years, rising to the position of executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. He left the church in 2008, penning an open letter in which he revealed that he was sexually abused as a child.

Melbourne's Lord Mayor Sally Capp supports the resolution. She told Radio 3AW "Our main aim is to make sure we have safe places, particularly for children, throughout our city."

In August, Melbourne's Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli told ABC Radio that he would choose to go to jail rather than break the "seal" of the confessional booth. He would encourage a person who confessed to child abuse to report themselves to police but would not take action on anything said inside.

Mother of two sexual assault victims Chrissie Foster had stern words for church leadership, telling The Age, "Archbishop Comensoli says quite proudly that he'd rather go to jail than break the seal of confession. He's chosen to protect paedophiles instead of children. That's business as usual for the church."

Sexual assault in the church is a charged issue in Victoria. In 2018, Cardinal George Pell was convicted of five charges of sexual assault on two boys, becoming the most senior official of the church to be jailed for abuse. His conviction helped survivors push for more stringent reporting laws.

The council will vote on Gilley's proposal Tuesday.