A bill before the California State Legislature that would require Catholic clergy members to report some of what they hear during confession is waiting for an Assembly committee assignment after the Senate passed it a few weeks ago in a 30-4 vote. The bill removes an exemption to mandatory reporting laws that protects communication between a clergy member and a penitent.
“I am deeply disappointed with today’s Senate vote,” Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez, who also serves as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, tweeted on May 23. “I continue to believe we can strengthen mandated reporting laws to protect children’s safety while at the same time preserving the sanctity of penitential communications.”
Despite several amendments protecting confessional seals—the bill now only requires priests to report if a fellow priest or a co-worker reveals sexual abuse—the Catholic Church in particular bristled at the bill’s passage. Gómez said in an earlier statement that confession is sacred and that forcing priests to break it not only violates their religious liberty but it also is not an effective way to curtail sexual abuse because it is not the kind of sin that people report during confession. He pointed out that other protected communications, such as attorney-client privilege, had not received the same treatment despite being more likely to include information about abuse. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich