Costa Rica is considering legislation that would threaten the seal of confession, inspired by a recently introduced California bill that would do the same.
“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
Last month, the California senate considered a bill that would remove the reporting exemption for priests. Forcing them to break the seal of confession, failure to divulge what they learned in the confessional as it pertains to abuse would constitute a crime if passed.
Costa Rican lawmaker Enrique Sánchez introduced a similar bill to the country’s National Assembly, saying he was inspired by California’s example.
“We are expanding the requirement, it would include persons in the churches, being obliged to report to the Public Ministry when they hear of a case or suspect abuse.”
The bill was introduced in response to Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado’s asking to “discuss as a society” the creation of a bill thereof that would force priests to divulge what the learn in the confessional.
A local spokeperson for the Church admonished the bill, pointing out how it threatens religious freedom and would not lead to more justice.
“Obliging to disrespect sacramental secrecy is, rather, a danger to the practice of religious freedom of Catholics in general and little or nothing will help the administration of justice in pursuing the possible author of a crime, endangering religious liberty but does nothing in the cause of justice.”
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.