Proposed CA Law will Force Catholic Priests Report Child Sex Abuse

The church has opposed the bill.

California Democratic Senator from San Mateo, Jerry Hill, said he will negate all legal protections accorded to the Catholic “seal of confession” if it concerns knowledge of abuse of a child. According to Hill, Senate Bill 360 will be applicable towards individuals who are suspected of harming or have harmed children. They must compulsorily be reported so the concerned law enforcement could undertake a timely investigation.

The senator announced on February 20 a bill he will introduce to remove the exemption in the “mandated reporter” law of the state which permits clergy members to withhold all knowledge of any suspected abuse of any child from law enforcement incase that information was obtained during the instance of “penitential communication” like a Catholic confession. The Senate Bill 360 brings in line clergy who are at present not required by law to inform authorities of child abuse information. In contrast, doctors, social workers, therapists, and police are included among the 47 different professionals who must compulsorily inform law enforcement regarding the incidence of abuse or even of suspecting the same.

Hill has a clear stand on the issue. He pointed out the law must be applied to all professionals who were designated as mandated reporters about these crimes. There should be no exceptions to this rule. He said the exemption given to clergy has only protected the abuser. The victims and other vulnerable children presently being exposed are at increased risk.

In the Catholic Church, any “seal of confession” is regarded as sacred. Furthermore, any priest who is found to be at fault of betraying a worshiper will automatically suffer an immediate excommunication. The church naturally has opposed the Bill. One Massachusetts priest, Father John Landry, even wrote to a prominent faith journal that a priest must compulsorily honor the stated seal of confession even if the church member is threatened with torture and imprisonment. Death should not be a deterrent in such a case. Landry has sharply criticized the bill to mandate reporting of child sexual abuse to the relevant law enforcement authorities.

Not all clergy members have opposed the bill. One of the supporters is Reverend Jaime Romo of Child-Friendly Faith Project. In his statement, he said for an inordinately long time, the religious authorities have left children unsafe and vulnerable due to the option of not reporting such cases.

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