Skip to content

California confession bill won't stop abuse, but threatens religious liberty, critics say

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

By (CNA/EWTN)
5/15/2019 (4 days ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

The appropriations committee of California's state senate will hold a hearing Thursday on a bill that would require priests to violate the seal of confession if they became aware of allegations of child abuse or neglect while celebrating the sacrament of penance. Critics say the bill would deny Constitutional religious liberty protections, and that there is no evidence it would actually prevent child abuse.

Highlights

By (CNA/EWTN)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
5/15/2019 (4 days ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: California, confession bill, religious liberty


Sacramento, Calif., (CNA) - The bill, California SB 360, requires clergy members to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse or neglect, "including when the clergy member acquires the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication."

Clergy in California are already required to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse in most circumstances, though penitential conversations like sacramental confession are exempted, as are other kinds of privileged conversations, among them those covered by attorney-client privilege.

The bill's sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that "the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths."

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through "recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries." Hill's office declined to respond to requests from CNA for clarity or specific instances of the abuse cited.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a May 15 column that Hill's claim is "simply not true. Hearings on the bill have not presented a single case '" in California or anywhere else ­'" where this kind of crime could have been prevented if a priest had disclosed information he had heard in confession."

"SB 360 claims to solve a crisis that does not exist," Gomez said.

While priests are forbidden from disclosing the contents of sacramental confessions under any circumstances, and face excommunication for doing so, few believe Hill's bill would prevent child abuse.

California Catholic Conference executive director Andy Rivas told Angelus News May 15 that "there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose what is learned in the confessional would prevent a single case of child abuse."

If penitents report being abused, several priests told CNA, they are generally asked to discuss the matter with the priest-confessor immediately after confession has ended. When such conversations take place after confession, clergy members in California are already required by law to report them.

The bill is not the first time Hill has taken issue with internal Church practices. In 2015, he signed a letter urging San Francisco's Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to end an archdiocesan requirement that Catholic school teachers live in accord with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

The letter said the requirement had "a divisive tone, which stands in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and its history."

The right to confidential religious communications has been recognized in Western legal traditions for centuries. The sacrament of confession is understood within Catholic teaching to be a revelation to God of sins, and confession is kept absolutely confidential in order to ensure that no penitent is discouraged from making use of the sacrament.

California's bill would be a striking reversal of long-standing legal precedent preceding even the foundation of the United States. The state would be the first to explicitly revoke religious confidentiality while keeping protection for other kinds of confidential conversations in place.

Gomez' May 15 column noted directly that the proposed measure "only targets Catholic priests."

While the bill's sponsor insists that's not true, the bill was introduced shortly after the release a Pennsylvania grand jury reporting detailing decades of clerical sexual abuse allegations, and after the scandal that began June 20, 218, when credible allegations of abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick were made public.

Gomez also said this week that "from a public policy standpoint, if the goal is to prevent child sexual abuse, it does not make sense to single out Catholic priests and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which is the formal name for confession."

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California's largest, has faced two allegations of child sexual abuse by priests in the last ten years. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are seven allegations of clerical sexual abuse made each year, across the United States.

Although all educators in California, as in most states, are mandated reporters, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 10% of public school students in the U.S. will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee before graduating from high school. 6,220,413 students were enrolled in California public schools in 2017-2018, according to the state's department of education. If California does not significantly deviate from national statistics, 622,041 of those students are likely to experience sexual misconduct by public school employees before graduation.

Hill, himself a licensed teacher, has not weighed in publicly on another California bill that would remove the civil statute of limitations for lawsuits involving sexual abuse claims against employees of public schools and other California institutions.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, along with five other California dioceses, established May 14 an independently managed compensation program, which would provide compensatory payment to those alleging to be victims of priestly sexual abuse, regardless of what that abuse is alleged to have happened.

Gomez, for his part, has called Catholics to oppose the confession bill, which he called "a mortal threat to the religious freedom of every Catholic."

"The privacy of that intimate conversation '" our ability to speak with total honesty from our lips to God's ear '" is absolutely vital to our relationship with God," Gomez wrote.

At the same time, the archbishop encouraged Catholics to pray for the healing of abuse victims and their families.

"Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us bring healing to every victim-survivor of abuse and help us build a society where every child is loved, protected, and safe."

 

Your Prayer Requests 'LIVE'

---


'Help Give every Student and Teacher FREE resources for a world-class Moral Catholic Education'


Copyright 2019 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2019
Young People and the Example of Mary.
That young people, especially in Latin America, follow the example of Mary and respond to the call of the Lord to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world.


Comments


More U.S.

'Stand firm for life against the evil opposing it' Kentucky governor says Watch

Image of

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is urging his fellow governors to "be bold" on the issue of life. Frankfort, Ky., (CNA) - The first-term ... continue reading


Pro-life doctors: Despite Ohio bill, there is no procedure to save ectopic pregnancies Watch

Image of

An Ohio bill seeking to limit insurance coverage of non-lifesaving abortions erroneously states that a procedure exists in which a doctor ... continue reading



Analysis: Which state pro-life laws could arrive at the Supreme Court Watch

Image of

Earlier this week, the state of Alabama passed legislation to make abortion a felony. The measure is the nation's strongest prohibition on ... continue reading


'Appeal-proof' abortion ban advances in Missouri Watch

Image of

The Missouri Senate has passed a bill that would ban most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. Legislators responsible for the bill ... continue reading


Lowest-ever fertility rates have complicated causes, no easy solutions, experts say Watch

Image of

Fertility rates in the United States have fallen to an all-time low, according to provisional figures released by the Centers for Disease ... continue reading


Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.