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Bishops, Priests, Faithful Voice Alarm Over SB 360

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May 30, 2019

The Legislature’s attempts to attack the sanctity of the confessional in Senate Bill 360 is drawing alarm from California Bishops, priests, Catholics and others concerned with the free exercise of religion.

SB 360 (Hill, D-Mateo), would remove the right to privacy between a penitent and confessor during the Sacrament of Reconciliation and other spiritual counseling for priests and employees of the Church. 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.  

 “It’s shocking because it is a blatant violation of the First Amendment. The whole point of the First Amendment was to keep the government out of the church. Here it is the government intruding into the affairs of the church,” said San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Listen to his entire interview here.

“SB 360 claims to solve a crisis that does not exist,” wrote Archbishop José H. Gomez in a piece on “The fact is, child sexual abuse is not a sin that people confess to priests in the confessional. Those who counsel such predators tell us that sadly, many of them are secretive and manipulative and cannot comprehend the grave evil of their actions.”

Other Bishops have emphasized the great peril this new law presents for priests. Historically, many have died to protect the “seal of confession.”

“I would like to make clear what the passage of this law would mean for Catholic priests in California. Immediately, it would place them on the horns of a terrible dilemma,” wrote Bishop Robert Barron. Read his entire op-ed here.

“It’s important for you to know that priests are already “mandated reporters” in California, required by law to report cases of sexual abuse that we suspect, except if we’re to hear about it in the confessional. The bill’s key assumption is a failure to understand the nature of the sacrament,” wrote Bishop Kevin Vann in a letter to parishioners. View the letter here.

Bishop Jaime Soto released a statement saying, “The government has no understanding what the sacrament means for Catholics. The priest's duty to protect the seal of the confession is for the benefit of the penitent.” Read the statement in its entirety here.  

Andy Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference released this statement upon the passage of the bill in the State Senate: “We are disappointed that the California State Senate today passed SB 360, a bill that will help no one yet has the potential to hurt everyone.  While the California Catholic Conference shares the desire to combat the scourge of sexual abuse of minors and is committed to strengthening mandatory reporting requirements, interjecting the government into the confessional is not going to accomplish that objective and could undermine the guarantee of confidentiality all of us depend upon.”

You can do your part in fighting this egregious bill by sending a letter to your lawmaker in the Assembly and keeping a lookout for upcoming alerts and other ways to make it known that this is a clear violation of religious liberty.