Once Again, Catholic Church Officials Put Themselves Above the Law
Before SB 360 was withdrawn from consideration today, Catholic Church officials spoke out against it in no uncertain terms. Bishops in San Jose, Sacramento, Stockton, and Los Angeles all urged parishioners to oppose the measure. Oakland Bishop Michael Barber may have gone the furthest when he said that he would use his power as Bishop to order the priests employed by him to disobey that civil law. Even the Vatican weighed in, saying that "no human power" can compel priests to violate seal of confession.
This opposition to the reform of the mandatory reporting law is problematic for a couple of reasons.
First, this lack of respect for secular laws seems to us to be part of the reason why there is an abuse scandal in the Catholic church in America and worldwide. Cases of child sexual abuse by clergy were not only not reported to law enforcement, they were concealed from parishioners and the public. Priests were treated as if they were above the criminal law.
Second, the bishops are conflating the intent of this law - the explicit protection of children - with other church precepts. The law was modified to specify only information on ministerial abuse of children received in confession - no other penitent privileges were impacted. The free exercise of religion is not absolute, and the protection of the young and vulnerable from clerical abusers would not seem to be an unreasonable intrusion on practice.
We urge the Attorney General of California – and California lawmakers – to examine carefully the behavior of the Catholic bishops in the state. They explicitly entered into the body politic to lobby for rules that help cover up crimes. They have not just opposed this measure, but also the extension of the civil statute of limitations for abuse survivors. This is a part of their age-old playbook and is a danger to the safety of local communities. We hope that others in California will also speak out in favor of expanding the rules on mandatory reporting, and other measures that discourage institutional cover ups.
CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member (firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California (email@example.com, 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (email@example.com, 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)