‘I confess': should the ‘seal of the confessional’ protect pedophiles?
In a recent state Senate bill, questions of religious freedom collided with public safety concerns. SB 360 would have required clergy to alert authorities of child abuse confessed by priests or church employees.
California Senate Bill 360 breezed through the Legislature’s upper house, passing by such a lopsided vote — 30-4 — it seemed destined to become law.
Then the measure, which would have required clergy to alert authorities of child abuse confessed by priests or church employees, landed in the Assembly. Suddenly, opposition was loosed with a near-biblical vengeance.
Critics raised constitutional concerns: given First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom, could the state force confessors to divulge information shared in confidence?
“If the First Amendment doesn’t protect that,” said the Rev. Pius Pietrzyk, a canon lawyer, “it doesn’t protect any religious practice.”
There was massive pushback from Catholic constituents — an estimated 140,000 letters of protest came from Los Angeles-area parishioners alone.
An Assembly analysis highlighted the bill’s inconsistencies. Priests would have to report confessions of abuse by clerics or church employees from their own parish, but could ignore identical confessions coming from clerics and employees attached to other parishes.
“Why,” the committee asked, “should some abusers be protected and not others?”
Last month, SB 360’s author, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, withdrew the bill — for now.
“It’s been pulled,” said Leslie Govara, a spokeswoman for the senator, “but it’s not dead. He’s taking a loo...