Catholic priests should face criminal charges if they fail to report allegations of child sex abuse disclosed during confession, according to an Australian inquiry.
The measure was among 85 proposed changes published in a report Monday by the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Catholic Church regards what is said in confession as strictly confidential, and priests face automatic excommunication if they reveal what they have been told by people in their confessions.
Catholic bishops in Australia have said they will fight the measure. Recommendations made by the royal commission will be put to Australian legislators to decide whether they should become law.
Related: How the Catholic Church’s hierarchy makes it difficult to punish sexual abusers
The commission, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, heard that more than 1,000 Catholic institutions and a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators were identified in sexual abuse allegations between 1980 and 2015. Various other institutions were also implicated; the commission heard 1,100 abuse complaints against the Anglican Church of Australia during the same time period.
The commission said that in some cases, abusers had admitted to their crimes during confession but had gone on to reoffend, as they knew they would not be reported to police.
The head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, said in a statement that “confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest.”
“It is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries. It must remain so here in Australia. Outside of this all offences against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so,” said Hart in the statement.