The Catholic Church will not break the seal of confession, but will consider voluntary celibacy

St Francis Xavier's Catholic Cathedral in Adelaide, Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (AAP Image/Kelly Barnes) NO ARCHIVING

Australian Catholic leaders have vowed to end the cover-up of child sexual abuse, but they adamantly refuse to break the seal of confession, even if it means that priests could face criminal charges.

The leaders have promised that the shameful story of Catholic Church priests and others in their ranks who sexually abuse children will never be repeated, committing to accountability and a plan of action in response to the call of a royal commission for radical reforms.

It will be up to Pope Francis and his advisers to act on many of the far-reaching recommendations of the Australian royal commission against child abuse and its implications for centuries-old canon law.

But the Australian bishops will not yield to the royal commission's call to break the seal of confession to reveal child sexual abuse, even if priests face the prospect of criminal charges under the mandatory reporting statutes.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Australia and the highest body for religious orders, Catholic Religious Australia, said it was the only recommendation of the royal commission that they could not accept.

"This is because it is contrary to our faith and contrary to religious freedom," said ACBC President Archbishop Mark Coleridge and CRA President Sister Monica Cavanagh.

"We are committed to protecting children and vulnerable people while maintaining the seal.

"We do not see the safeguard and the seal as mutually exclusive."

Archbishop Coleridge said that many changes had been made since the horrible reality of child sexual abuse became known, but that they were sometimes too slow and timid.

He said that too many priests, brothers, sisters and laity did not protect the children and that many bishops did not listen, believed and acted.

"Those failures allowed some abusers to offend again and again, with tragic and sometimes fatal consequences," he said in a statement on Friday.

"The bishops and leaders of the religious orders promise today: never again.

"There will be no cover-up, there will be no transfer of people accused of abuse, there will be no placing of the reputation of the church over the safety of the children."

Sr. Monica said that the church had already begun to change a series of practices, including the projection and training of people who trained to be priests or sisters or religious brothers.

"Today is not about us saying 'we will do the least possible' in responding to the important recommendations of the real commission," he said.

"Changing the culture of our church to be responsible and open is part of the action that must occur."

The key adviser to the royal commission of the church wants it to appoint an ombudsman or oversight body to investigate complaints and make recommendations to improve systems, processes and the appropriate use of power in the church.

"Such a body would need to have teeth," the Council of Healing and Justice of Truth said in a report published Friday.

The ACBC has initiated conversations with the Holy See on the recommendations of the commission dealing with the discipline and doctrine of the universal church.

The royal commission called on the Holy See to make numerous changes to the centuries-old canonical ecclesiastical law, including that the "pontifical secret" does not apply to accusations of abuse and to consider voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy .