Australia's Catholic leaders say they have not hidden behind the now-abolished "pontifical secret" to protect child sexual abusers.
Pope Francis has removed the confidentiality imposed during Catholic Church investigations of child abuse allegations, a reform recommended by an Australian royal commission.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and peak body for religious orders, Catholic Religious Australia, backed the step but argued the pontifical secret's existence had not stopped them reporting abuse to civil authorities.
"As we - along with leaders of religious institutes - said in our response to the royal commission, the accusation that Australian bishops or religious superiors were hiding behind the pontifical secret to protect abusers was untrue," ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said on Wednesday.
"To cite that response: 'The pontifical secret does not in any way inhibit a bishop or religious leader from reporting instances of child sexual abuse to civil authorities'."
CRA president Br Peter Carroll said the Pope's decision does not change reporting obligations, but makes it clear that pontifical secrecy in no way hinders reporting to authorities.
"Pope Francis' actions announced overnight clarify the matter for the church around the world and confirms the church's support of transparency, to which the church in Australia is fully committed," he said.
Victims' advocacy groups hope the reforms will lead to less secrecy in abuse cases and more openness from church officials.
"It will finally prevent the protection of abusers within the church and those complicit in covering up crimes, as well as the silencing of victims and witnesses," Blue Knot Foundation president Cathy Kezelman said.
"However, while it acknowledges the need for all church personnel to comply with civil law in reporting, it still falls short of the church mandating the reporting of crimes."
The decision means documents and testimony produced in canonical trials can now be handed over when requested by civil law enforcement, although they will not become public domain.
"The breadth of Pope Francis' decision is evident: the wellbeing of children and young people must always come before any protection of a secret, even the 'pontifical' secret," Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli said.
Mr Tornielli noted the reform does not affect the sacramental seal over confession in any way.
Australia's attorneys-general last month agreed to standardise laws making it mandatory for priests to report child abuse revealed to them during confession.
The Catholic Church has insisted priests would be obliged to defy the laws.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Michelle James said the church's many statements about its commitment to greater transparency had not been followed by substantive action, including refusing to report allegations of abuse raised in the confessional.
Australian Associated Press
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