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California Senate to vote on amended seal of confession bill

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SB 360 amended, but it is still unacceptable to Catholic leaders.

A proposed state law in California that would require priests to disclose information learned during the sacrament of confession has been amended, but Catholic leaders say that’s not enough.

On May 16, the state Senate Appropriations committee voted 4-2 to send an amended version of Senate Bill 360 for a vote of the full Senate, Crux reported.

“The bill, as amended, would require priests to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained from hearing the sacramental confessions of other priests or co-workers,” Catholic News Agency reported. “The bill originally would have required California priests to violate the seal of confession anytime they gained knowledge or suspicion of child abuse from hearing the confession of any penitent.”

Confession is sacrosanct, according to Catholic teaching, because it is communication between the penitent and God. A priest is automatically excommunicated if he reveals the contents of a confession.

“Catholics believe that in the confessional we can tell God everything that is on our heart and seek his healing mercy. The priest is only an instrument; he stands in the ‘person of Christ.’ We confess our sins—not to a man but to God,” Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez wrote recently. “The privacy of that intimate conversation—our ability to speak with total honesty from our lips to God’s ear—is absolutely vital to our relationship with God.”

As “mandated reporters” in California, priests are already required by law to report cases of sexual abuse that they suspect, except if they hear about it in the confessional.

“Penitents rely on this unbreakable guarantee to freely confess and seek reconciliation with God,” explained the California Catholic Conference.

Catholic teaching is uncompromising about the seal of the confessional “because we believe that through this sacramental encounter, a sinner accesses the healing and forgiving grace of Christ,” Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron wrote recently. “In the context of Confession, the priest, we hold, is operating in the very person of Christ, and therefore, the penitent is speaking to and hearing from the Lord himself. Thus, absolutely nothing ought to stand in the way of a sinner who seeks this font of grace.”

If a penitent thought that the priest to whom he confessed were likely to share with others what was given in the most sacred confidence, “he or she would be reluctant indeed ever to approach the sacrament of Reconciliation,” Bishop Barron continued.

“It’s not a matter of trying to shield child offenders. It’s a way of giving people assurance within the context of the sacrament so they can bring before God all they have done, that is offensive before God, that is sinful, that they would have no  reservations in doing that,” San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in an interview on Relevant Radio recently. If people are afraid that what they say in Confession might be known, this is sacred. We’re delving deep into people’s souls here. They have to know that they’re protected so they can have confidence to reveal all that is within their conscience and know that that will be protected.”

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