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California bill that would violate seal of confession withdrawn from consideration



John Burger - published on 07/09/19 - updated on 07/09/19

Proposal's author decides it would not receive sufficient votes.

A proposed state law in California that would have compelled some Catholic priests to reveal what they heard in sacramental confessions has been withdrawn from consideration.

Senate Bill 360 was pulled from Tuesday’s agenda of the State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee.

The bill’s author, State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), decided to shelve his bill on Monday after learning that it did not have enough votes to pass out of the committee, Angelus News reported. The same day, the Public Safety Committee released a report raising serious First Amendment and enforceability concerns about the proposed law, Angelus said.

“SB 360 was a dangerous piece of legislation,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, according to Angelus News. “If any legislature can force believers to reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings shared with God in confession, then truly there is no area of human life that is free or safe from government.”

The California Catholic Conference, which speaks out about public policy of concern to Catholics in the state, said that “tens of thousands of letters, emails and phone calls” from Catholics had poured into the state capitol as the bill was being considered.  “Hundreds more planned on boarding buses from as far away as Los Angeles to voice their opposition” on Tuesday.

“An amazing number of people spoke to their legislators to explain the sacred nature of the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” said Andrew Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference. “It is important to our spirituality and our relation to God and to others.  Our thanks go to all who played a part.”

Rivas emphasized that strengthening mandatory reporting laws continues to be a priority of the Conference’s public policy efforts.

An amended version of SB 360 passed in the state Senate in late May, after Hill gave up on requiring priests to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse from hearing the confession of any penitent. The new version would have required reporting if a priest learns about or suspects child abuse from hearing a confession of a fellow priest or co-worker.

The proposal raised the ire of Catholics nationwide, as well as people of good will who were concerned about its infringements on religious liberty. A statement signed by Muslim, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Baptist faith leaders, as well as representatives from Eastern Catholic Churches and historic Black Churches was delivered to committee members Monday, declaring that “we are all one with American Roman Catholics in condemning the attack on religious freedom that the current version of California Senate Bill 360 represents.”

Religious Freedom
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