The California senate will vote on an amended bill that would remove the reporting exemption for Catholic priests, forcing them to break the seal of confession.
“Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the ‘sacramental seal,’ because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains ‘sealed’ by the sacrament.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1467
In California, more than 40 professions including clergy are requiring by state law to report to civil authorities in cases of suspected abuse or neglect of children. The law provides an exemption for “penitential communications” between a penitent and their confessor if the requirement of confidentiality is rooted in church doctrine.
Introduced by State Senator Jerry Hill, the bill “Removing Clergy Exemption from Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting” would end that exemption and force clergy to divulge what they learned in the confessional as it pertains to abuse. Hill said the “exemption for clergy places children at further risk.”
The bill was first introduced last February would have forced priests to the report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained from any penitent. As it stands amended, priests would only be forced to report in cases when hearing the confession of other priests or coworkers.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bill remains “an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children” in a statement on Monday.
“SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries. As a Catholic community, let us continue to work with lawmakers for a bill that truly advances our shared goals of fighting the scourge of child sexual abuse in our society.”
According to the Code of Canon Law, a priest who intentionally violates the seal is automatically excommunicated.
“The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” – Code of Canon Law 983 § 1.
The California Senate could vote on the bill as soon as the 21st, Tuesday.