CV NEWS FEED // Democrats in the Delaware State legislature are targeting the seal of confession, introducing legislation that would require priests to report information relating to child abuse and neglect that is shared in the confessional.
House Bill 74, which would require priests to break the sacred seal of confession, comes on the heels of similar efforts in Vermont and Utah. Meanwhile, Washington and Kansas are in the process of implementing measures that would require clergy to be listed as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect.
Last week, CatholicVote reported Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, VT, testified that the Vermont bill “crosses a Constitutional protective element of our religious faith: the right to worship as we see fit.”
Careful reading of the Delaware bill shows that, while it upholds the legal recognition of client-attorney privilege that has long been defined in English common law and constitutional interpretations of the Sixth Amendment, it deletes language granting the same right between priest and penitent in the Sacrament of Confession.
The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, led by Bishop William Koenig, was quick to issue a statement opposing the bill:
The Sacrament of Confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the Church’s sacramental theology and practice. It is nonnegotiable. No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances. To do so would incur an automatic excommunication that could only be pardoned by the Pope himself. It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith.
According to the diocese, the bill would make no “meaningful” difference in efforts to protect minors and vulnerable adults because “priests are already mandatory reporters under Delaware’s child abuse reporting law in all circumstances other than the Sacrament of Confession.”
Additionally, the diocese’s own internal policies require all clergy to report suspected incidents of child abuse to civil authorities. And, because the Sacrament of Confession is almost always anonymous, it would create a requirement “that would be nearly impossible to meet in a practical sense.”
“The Diocese of Wilmington considers the protection of the vulnerable to be one of the most important aims of public policy. However, this legislation would not advance that vital objective,” reads the statement from the diocese.
Earlier this month, four bills with similar aims failed to advance in the Utah state legislature after Bishop Oscar A. Solis called on Utah’s Catholics to contact their lawmakers and object.
“There is no doubt that we must protect innocent children and prevent child sexual abuse. However, there is no proof that forcing Catholic priests to break the Seal of the Confessional will help achieve that, and legislation that would require a priest to do so violates our right to practice our religion,” wrote Solis on January 25:
The proposed legislation is an intrusion into our fundamental right to the free exercise of our religion and goes against the long-standing tradition of our Catholic Church and other faith denominations who take very seriously the seal of confidentiality as a sacred trust that cannot be violated even at the cost of liberty and death.
House Bill 74, which is expected to be debated in the coming days, was introduced by Democrat Eric Morrison, the first openly gay man elected to the Delaware General Assembly.
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