New legislation will not protect children, says Bishop Holohan

27 Oct 2021

By Contributor

Bunbury Bishop Gerard Holohan, centre, during Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in May this year. Bishop Holohan has last week said Western Australia’s new Community and Family Services Amendment Bill effectively seeks to remove the possibility for survivors, who are beginning to come to terms with the psychological and physical consequences of crimes against them, starting their journey towards healing. Photo: Ron Tan.

Bunbury Bishop Gerard Holohan has said Western Australia’s new Community and Family Services Amendment Bill will not protect children in any practical sense.

“But effectively seeks to remove the possibility for survivors who are beginning to come to terms with the psychological and physical consequences of crimes against them starting their journey towards healing,” Bishop Holohan said.

In a Pastoral Letter issued late last week, Bishop Holohan endorsed the Pastoral Letter issued by Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB.

“Survivors will be the main victims of this legislation because raising their abuse in the Sacrament can be their first tentative step towards seeking healing,” Bishop Holohan said.

“On the other hand, neither I nor any priest I know has ever had the experience of an abuser raising his or her abuse in the Sacrament; indeed my understanding is that psychologically they would see no need to do so.”

Bishop Holohan also raised the issue that the legislation was passed despite the Parliamentary Committee which studied the issues recommending that the Seal continue to be protected, and the appeals of survivors for the same outcome.

As well as ministers of religion, the changes extend mandatory reporting laws to early childhood workers, out-of-home care workers, registered psychologists, school counsellors and youth justice workers.

Queensland and Victoria have also implemented similar legislation. The issue has been a hot topic across Australian states following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which released its final report to the public in late 2017.

In its investigations between 2013 and 2017, the commission found that 36 percent of abuse survivors who came forward reported abuse at Catholic institutions.

In his Pastoral Letter published last week Thursday 21 October, Archbishop Costelloe said that some people seem to have formed the view that if a person discloses during confession that he or she has been abused, the priest can and will do nothing.

“This is either an ignorant or a deliberately misleading presentation of the way confession is practised in the Catholic Church.

“A priest will do everything he can to provide advice, support and accompaniment if the person making the disclosure is open to this,” he said.

Priests are allowed to act if the person discloses information outside the context of confession. The priest however, according to Catholic teaching, must not betray the confidence of the person who comes to him in the confessional.

This is because, as Archbishop Costelloe explains, in Catholic teaching the priest acts in the person of Christ in this encounter.

“In a very real sense the disclosure is made to Christ who, in the person of the priest, listens, advises, encourages and assists that person in every way possible. He does not betray that person’s confidence.”

Archbishop Costelloe also spoke about what happens when someone confesses to the sin and crime of abuse.

“The priest will do everything in his power to convince the self-confessed abuser that he or she must hand him or herself in to the police.

“Unlikely though it might seem that an abuser would agree to this, the possibility at least is there.

Archbishop Costelloe continued by saying that with the passage of this law it is almost inconceivable that a perpetrator would put him or herself at risk of discovery.

“Thus, any admittedly small chance a priest might have to seek to convince a perpetrator of the evil of his or her actions, and encourage or direct that person to go to the police, would be lost.

Click Here to read Bishop Gerard Holohan’s Pastoral Letter