SACRAMENTO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - California State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) has paused a bill that would require priests to break the seal of confession if penitents confess child abuse and neglect.
Hill introduced SB 360 in February to remove the exemption by amending two sections of the code, making clergy "mandated reporters" even when knowledge of such crimes are learned in penitential communications.
The California Penal Code currently provides an exemption from reporting on cases of child abuse and neglect for clergy members when those cases become known during penitential communications, which include the sacrament of confession for priests.
Hill's bill defines a "clergy member" as a priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner or similar functionary of a church, temple or recognized denomination or organization.
Senate committee amendments to the bill were made in May to limit the mandate exclusively to penitential communications involving other clergy members or coworkers.
On Tuesday, Hill realized that the bill did not have enough support to move forward and placed it on hold, according to a press release from his office.
"Senate Bill 360 has one purpose only, not to restrict faith, but to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable of the faithful: children," said Hill. "This issue remains important to me, and I will continue to champion it in the hope that my colleagues can come together on legislation."
"I strongly believe that for any institution self-policing and self-investigation are not effective ways to combat alleged abuse, as our own state Legislature has found," he added.
Some news agencies are reporting that the bill has been "dropped," "pulled" or "withdrawn," but that is not what Hill stated.
"To be clear, I have placed SB 360 on hold. The bill is on pause, it has not been withdrawn," he said.
Before this bill was put on hold, Bp. Michael Barber of Oakland, California, said, "I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom."
"Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it," he added. "The protection of your right to confess to God and have your sins forgiven in total privacy must be protected."
In March, Pope Francis highlighted the seal of confession when addressing participants at the course organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary:
Reconciliation itself is a benefit that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all her moral and legal might, with the sacramental seal. Although it is not always understood by the modern mentality, it is indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the freedom of conscience of the penitent, who must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain within the secrecy of the confessional, between one’s conscience that opens to grace, and God, with the necessary mediation of the priest. The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction over it, nor can lay any claim to it.
Attempts to pass laws that empower the state to override the seal of confession in Australia, California and elsewhere has led the Vatican's Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary to release a note on Monday reaffirming the inviolability of the seal of confession:
The inviolable secrecy of Confession comes directly from revealed divine law and is rooted in the very nature of the sacrament, to the point of not admitting any exception in the ecclesial context, nor, even less, in the civil sphere. In fact, the very essence of Christianity and the Church is contained in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation: the Son of God became man to save us and decided to involve, as a "necessary tool" in this work of salvation, the Church, and in it, those whom he has chosen, called and constituted as his ministers.
Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, some priests have accepted death rather than break the seal of confession.
In 1927, St. Mateo Correa Magallanes was arrested by Mexican forces. He heard the confessions of some who were to be put to death. After the priest finished administering the sacrament, the general demanded he reveal what was learned during the confession.
Saint Correa refused to break the seal and was executed.
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