The Acting Archbishop of Adelaide has said that the Church will not adhere to new laws compelling priests who are told about child abuse within Confession to report what they hear to police.
Under the new laws set to take effect in South Australia in October, priests who fail to report child abuse to police will be fined up to A$10,000 (£5,600).
"Politicians can change the law, but we can't change the nature of the confessional, which is a sacred encounter between a penitent and someone seeking forgiveness and a priest representing Christ,' Bishop Greg O'Kelly, Acting Adelaide Archbishop, told ABC Radio Adelaide on 15 June.
"It doesn't affect us. We have an understanding of the seal of confession that is in the area of the sacred,” he continued.
“Canon law lays down that 'it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason,'” he added.
Bishop O'Kelly said the church had not been made aware of the change, which was legislated last year, until Thursday (14 June).
The law forms part of the South Australian government's response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, released by Attorney-General Vickie Chapman on Tuesday.
“Where there is clear evidence to indicate a minister of religion... has failed to abide by their mandatory reporting requirements, the matter would need to be investigated by authorities, with further action - including prosecution - taken as appropriate,' a statement released by an Attorney-General's Department spokesperson.
The city of Canberra is set to follow South Australia after the elected body that runs the nation’s capital voted to abolish the secrecy of the confessional for child abuse cases from March.
Mark Coleridge, the archbishop of Brisbane and president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, described the change as “premature and ill-judged, seemingly driven by a desire to penalise the Catholic Church without properly considering the ramifications of the decision”.