SYDNEY — Priests who fail to tell police about suspected child sexual abuse should face criminal charges, even when they learn of abuse during a confidential religious confession, Australia’s most powerful investigative authority recommended on Monday.
Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse — the nation’s highest form of inquiry — recommended that all states and territories in Australia introduce legislation that would make it a criminal offense for people to fail to report child sexual abuse in an institutional setting.
Clergy who find out about sexual abuse during a religious confession would not be exempt from the law.
‘‘The right to practice one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse,’’ the commission wrote in a report released Monday.
Current laws on reporting knowledge of crimes vary across Australia. In some jurisdictions, information received during religious confessions — which are considered highly confidential by churches — is considered privileged, and thus exempt from mandatory reporting requirements.
The royal commission has been investigating since 2013 how churches and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children in Australia over the last several decades.
The reporting requirement that it urged Australia to adopt was one of 85 recommendations it made in a report aimed at revamping the criminal justice system to ensure fairer treatment of victims of child sexual abuse.
The reporting mandate would apply to people who failed to tell police that they knew, suspected or even should have suspected that an adult associated with their institution was sexually abusing a child.
If such a law was actually imposed in Australia, priests would ostensibly have to choose between following criminal law or canon law, which forbids them from revealing anything they hear during confession.
Cathy Kezelman, president of the Australian victims’ advocacy group, Blue Knot Foundation, applauded the commission’s recommendations.