Brisbane's Catholic Archbishop has hit out at proposed laws that would compel Queensland priests to report the confessions of child abusers.
The state's teachers, doctors, nurses, childcare workers and school principals already have to report crimes against children to authorities, but Archbishop Mark Coleridge says the laws would "limit and unjustly interfere" with the human rights of Catholics.
The proposed change is in line with a recommendation stemming from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and follows similar moves by other states.
Under the laws, the sanctity of the confessional could not be used as an excuse, defence or privilege.
While acknowledging the royal commission "did many positive things for the Catholic Church", Archbishop Coleridge said it "seemed not to grasp the nature of the sacrament of penance when it handed down its final report".
"The mechanism within this legislation which deals with the confessional seal quite simply will not make a difference to the safety of our young people," he wrote in a public submission.
"The proposed legislation would make the priest at this vital point less a servant of God than an agent of the state."
When announcing the reform in August, Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath proposed a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment for priests who failed to report confessions from abusers.
“The royal commission found one of the greatest barriers to achieving justice for children who had been sexually abused were those faced in reporting,” she said.
“The new failure to report offence will help ensure children no longer need to suffer in silence, and instances of child sexual abuse are no longer able to go unreported to police, including where perpetrators disclose the abuse during religious confession."
Archbishop Coleridge said clergy had died "because they have refused to submit to the claims of the state and preferred to defend the rights of the penitent before God".
"It is claimed at times that the seal must be abolished in law because it is the linchpin of a culture of secrecy and cover-up in the Catholic Church that has been identified by the royal commission," he wrote.
"The Church rejects such a claim, insisting that the seal is the guarantee of a culture of true disclosure, which is the opposite of cover-up.
"Its abolition would make it certain that abusers would never speak of the abuse in the sacramental celebration, and any hope there may have been that they might be led to see the truth of their crime, stop the abuse and report to civil authorities would be lost.
"The state would effectively be saying that there is some sin that cannot be forgiven, that God has no part to play in this, that clergy should be agents of the state, that the sacrament of penance is outlawed."
Archbishop Coleridge said mandatory reporting should remain in place, but "the privilege of confession be left intact".
"Indeed, removing legal protections around the seal of confession would not only be ineffective, it would be counterproductive, because it would remove the very small chance that a perpetrator might seek out confession as a first step to taking responsibility for their actions."