Catholic officials, including Bishop Gerald Barnes, are urging the faithful to continue to oppose a California bill that would force priests to disclose information about child sexual abuse that they hear in the Sacrament of Confession, which is advancing in the state legislature.
Current California law requires clergy to report suspected abuse or neglect unless the information about the abuse was obtained during Confession.
Senate Bill 360, authored by Bay Area Democrat Sen. Jerry Hill, seeks to eliminate this so-called “exemption” for “penitential communication.”
On May 16, the Senate Appropriations committee voted 4-2 to send an amended version of Senate Bill 360 for a vote of the full Senate, which passed the bill on May 23. The bill now moves to the State Assembly and Catholic leaders are encouraging the faithful to voice their opposition to the bill to their local Assembly member.
As amended, the bill now protects the seal of the confessional — except in cases where a priest is hearing another priest’s confession or in cases where a priest is hearing the confession of a co-worker.
Bishop Barnes’ issued the following statement on May 22.
“A matter of great urgency related our ability as Catholics to freely provide and receive the Sacrament of Confession in California has arisen in the form of a proposed law, Senate Bill 360. The “Seal of Confession” – so important for the penitent to feel that they can freely confess their sins and find Reconciliation with God – would be broken by SB 360. This proposed government intrusion into such a central Catholic practice is an afront to our faith and it should be viewed by all as a threat to religious liberty. Our Church is fully supportive of legal initiatives to prevent child abuse and we have devoted an entire ministry in our Diocese to training, protective measures and reporting on this issue.
It is important that we as Catholics make our voices heard to those lawmakers who will decide whether this bill becomes law. I encourage you to contact by phone or email the State Assembly Member in the District in which you live immediately. Tell them to vote ‘No’ on SB 360. You may also make your voice heard through the Action Alert process of the Catholic Legislative Network at www.cacatholic.org”
Thank you for your attention to this matter and may God continue to bless you and your families.”
If SB 360 becomes law, California would be the largest in the country — and the first since 1999 — to require priests to choose between violating the law or violating the seal of the confessional.
Pablo Kay of Angelus News contributed to this report.