Laws compelling priests in Tasmania to report child sexual abuse and break the seal of confession impinge on religious freedoms, the state's Catholic church says.
Reform to make religious ministers, plus members of the Tasmanian parliament, mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect became a step closer this week after passing the state's lower house.
Lifting the seal of confession was one of more than 400 recommendations made in 2018 by the royal commission into institutionalised child sex abuse.
"Under this reform, members of religious ministry will not be able to rely on the confessional privilege to refuse to disclose information," Attorney General Elise Archer said.
The legislation has the backing of survivor groups, but Hobart's Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous believes it impinges on long-held church teachings and the freedom of religion.
"The law as currently drafted requires priests to violate the most solemn and sacred act between the penitent and God," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
"With the federal government undertaking a review into religious freedom, now is not the time to introduce additional Tasmanian legislation.
"Attempting to push Tasmanian legislation through while we await the federal government's recommendations could lead to disharmony between state and federal laws in the future."
Archbishop Porteous said the Catholic church takes abuse seriously and has produced national guidelines for child safety and 'safe communities' procedures for priests to follow.
"Priests and all who work for the Church understand their obligations before the law to report on matters of child sexual abuse," he said.
"Priests, however, cannot comply with law that would require them to violate their vows to a higher authority."
Spokesperson for Tasmanian survivor group Beyond Abuse, Steve Fisher, described the church's position as offensive.
"They do not believe that they should be subjected to the same laws as everybody else. In 2019 they do," he said.
Ms Archer has said the state government believes the laws do not impact religious freedoms.
The legislation, which now heads to the upper house for approval, also broadens the definition of grooming to include those who try to exploit the trust of others in order to reach children.
It strengthens the use of audio and visual recording in taking the evidence of sexual abuse survivors, meaning they're less likely to be required to give the same evidence twice.
South Australia and the Northern Territory require religious leaders to report abuse, while Western Australia is considering a similar proposal.
Australian Associated Press
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