Victoria's premier says the culture of covering up child sexual abuse must end after Melbourne's most senior Catholic said he'd rather go to jail than reveal if someone confessed to him.
Archbishop Peter Comensoli also said priests who hear confessions have a similar privileged relationship to journalists and their sources, or lawyers and their clients.
Victoria is introducing new laws making it mandatory for religious leaders to report allegations of child abuse, including if they're made during confession.
Premier Daniel Andrews says Archbishop Comensoli's comparison to journalists or lawyers was completely wrong.
"I don't accept that comparison at all. I don't think that's a legitimate comparison in any way, shape or form," Mr Andrews told reporters on Thursday.
"The culture of cover up is over.
"The rights of children must come before ancient traditions that are a construct of Rome - that's what they are, nothing more than that."
Archbishop Comensoli says he supports mandatory reporting, but is also prepared to go to jail rather than break the confessional seal.
"Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Confession doesn't place people above the law. Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists' sources."
There are no legal requirements on journalists or lawyers to report child sexual abuse, but there are ethical ones.
Campaigner Chrissie Foster on Wednesday pointed out Catholic priest Michael McArdle confessed more than 1500 times about his child rapes to 30 priests over 25 years before he was eventually jailed.
Victoria's Liberal-National opposition went to the election with a similar policy, but it is being reviewed along with the entire election-losing platform.
"Child safety is paramount," Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien told reporters.
"What I do want to see though, is have the laws that are proposed been drafted in a way which achieves that end and do they not unnecessarily go and infringe on other religious freedoms."
Mr Andrews attacked his counterpart for a "disgraceful" about-turn.
"No religion, no church, no person, no priest, no politician is free to do anything other than put the safety of our kids first," Mr Andrews said.
"This was his policy, for heaven's sake, only a few months ago."
Clergy are already subject to mandatory reporting laws in South Australia and the Northern Territory, while Western Australia and Tasmania have announced plans to compel religious leaders to disclose knowledge of abuse.
Australian Associated Press