LOS ANGELES — Catholic officials are urging Catholics 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 that 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.
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.
In a statement, 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.”
As amended, he said, “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.”
In the run-up to the Appropriations Committee hearing, Gomez had urged a no vote on SB 360. More than 1,300 people contacted their Senators through the website of the California Catholic Conference — urging lawmakers to keep the seal of confession sacred.
In his statement, Gomez said: “I am grateful that Senators heard the voice of the Catholic people — who understand that confession is a sacred space, an intimate dialogue between the believer and the living God. We know that no government, for whatever reason, should violate the privacy and confidentiality of that sacred conversation.”
He said the Catholic community would continue to oppose SB 360 and would work with lawmakers for “a bill that truly advances our shared goals of fighting the scourge of child sexual abuse in our society.”
SB 360 could go to the Senate floor for a vote as early as Tuesday, May 21.
If it 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.
Kay is editor of Angelus, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
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