A California Senate Committee has voted to remove the right to privacy between a penitent and confessor during the Sacrament of Reconciliation and other spiritual counseling.
SB 360 Mandated reporters: clergy (Hill, D – San Mateo) passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 5-0 vote with two abstentions even though the move is most likely unconstitutional and is ultimately an unnecessary and unwise attack on religious freedom.
Members of the Committee seemed to misunderstand the nature of the Sacrament.
Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said the penitent privilege “allowed for the sexual abuse of children under the protection of religious freedom” and that “absolution from their Church” allowed for continue pedophilia.
Abusers are notoriously meticulous, secretive and deceptive. They are not likely to seek reconciliation or counseling, especially if the exemption is removed, but rather go to great lengths to conceal their hideous crimes.
In Catholic teaching the confessional is sacrosanct and Canon law is very clear that any priest who violates the seal of confession is automatically excommunicated. That will not change. (Four priests over the centuries have been martyred rather than violate the seal.)
Clergy already mandated reporters in their administrative duties and must remain so. But ignoring the First Amendment’s protection for the free exercise of religion is not going to protect children rather it will undermine fundamental rights recognized for centuries around the world for no gain whatsoever.
The bill must now go to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it goes to the full floor. To express your disagreement with the bill, please use our Action Alert to oppose SB 360.