Two states are currently considering legislation that amends mandatory reporter laws to force Catholic priests and other religious clergy to divulge information about sexual abuse, even when the priest learned of the abuse while hearing a confession.
Bills currently under consideration in the Washington and Vermont legislatures would make all clergy in the state mandatory reporters of sexual abuse and would remove so-called clergy-penitent privilege, which otherwise exempts religious ministers from reporting anything that is heard in confession.
The legislation, if passed, would most notably affect Catholic priests, who are prohibited from divulging anything they hear in confession. Catholic canon law stipulates that any priest who violates the “seal of confession” automatically incurs the penalty of excommunication.
Bishop Thomas Daly of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, told the Washington Examiner in an interview that if the bill were enacted, priests and bishops in the state would rather go to jail than comply.
“Priests and bishops will go to jail rather than break the seal of confession,” Daly said. “I’m confident that the priests in [the Diocese of Spokane] and my brother bishops would do that, so sacred is that bond.”
For Catholic priests, the seal of confession is nonnegotiable, Daly explained, noting that most secular institutions have tended to recognize the importance of the confessional seal and respected it.
“I am troubled if someone seems to think that this is negotiable,” he said. “I worry that that bond of trust that people have given their life for would suddenly seem to be up for renegotiation.”
The bishop of Spokane also wondered what kind of motivation could be behind the bill and noted that secular forces in the state were criticizing the Catholic Church’s involvement in social and healthcare services.
“Priests are already mandated reporters in all matters but the sacrament of penance,” he said. “Why has this become an issue?…”
Full story in Washington Examiner.