Opinion

Analysis: To Report Or Not To Report, That Is The Question For Clergy

When members confess their “sins” to their church leaders, they are normally forgiven or subjected to the internal disciplinary process. The morality “sins” come in a wide range of transgressions
16 Jun 2018 13:17
Analysis: To Report Or Not To Report, That Is The Question For Clergy

When members confess their “sins” to their church leaders, they are normally forgiven or subjected to the internal disciplinary process.

The morality “sins” come in a wide range of transgressions from the serious cases like adultery and fornication to verbal exchanges with your neighbours.

While they breach the law of God, they do not break the law of the land. They are not a crime in our statute books.

Then there are “sins” that break both the law of God and the law of the land – sexual sins like rape, child sex abuse, incest, sex with minors etc.

When offenders go before the clergy and confess, the proceedings are confidential to protect their identity and the integrity of the system.

It is not clear what happens after the confession. But if the clergy is bound by an oath to keep the details under wraps, then that’s where matters end.

New developments on this issue in Australia give us food for thought.

South Australia will become the first State to legally compel clergy to report child sex abuse revealed in confessions, media reports said.

Under the laws set to take effect in October, priests who hear confessions about child abuse will have a legal obligation to report the matter to the Police.

Not reporting abuse will carry a maximum $10,000 fine, and brings expectations of priests in line with those of social workers, teachers, medical professionals and others in positions of authority. The state will be the first to adopt a royal commission recommendation to remove the mandatory reporting exemption for priests hearing confession.

Recent statistics kept by the Police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions indicate there is a rise in reported sexually related cases. It means more people are reporting these crimes to the Police. Whether some of these came from church clergy is not known.

Child sex abuse and other related sexual offences should be reported to the Police once information is received by the clergy, compelled or not.

Our people must get the message that they cannot hide behind the church or the Vanua or community if they have allegedly committed crimes.

But the initiative must come from the clergy to encourage members to report criminal cases to the Police and let the law take its own course. If the cases come to their attention in the course of the interview and confession, they should report the matter to the Police.

They need not be compelled. There are others, of course, those who will argue that the South Australian action breaches the independence and freedom of churches.

No doubt, there may be clergy here who are already co-operating with the law. In that case we do not need a law similar to the South Australian version if voluntary reporting of alleged incidents is happening.

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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