The proposed legislation mirrors the California Confession bill, which was ultimately withdrawn before a vote could be held.
A pair of bills have been introduced to the Wisconsin legislature in a purported effort to aid victims of child abuse. The first, called The Child Victims Act, would abolish the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse; the second, the Clergy Mandatory Reporter Act, would oblige priests to report such instances when learned of in the confessional.
Perry West of CNA reports that there is already a law known as The Clergy Mandatory Reporter Act, passed in Wisconsin in 2004. The current iteration, however, does not require clergy members to report anything learned during Confession. In the State of Wisconsin, Clerics are already considered “mandatory reporters” of abuse, along with doctors, teachers, and counselors.
Kim Vercauteren, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, explained to CNA that “more needs to be done” for victims of child sexual abuse. Vercauteren, however, stated that the confidentiality offered by confession allows for a transparency between the congregant and priest. Without such an atmosphere, she worries that government interference could erode the opportunity for absolution. She said:
“If you look at our teaching, [confession] is ultimately between the person and God, and the priest acts as an intermediary in that relationship. The need for secrecy and to be able to [sic] candid in that circumstance is kind of the whole premise behind confession that this is the opportunity to completely unburden your soul.”
Vercauteren went on to note that the previous Clergy Mandatory Reporter Act, from 2004, already obliged priests to report child abuse committed by other clerics. She explained to CNA:
“If they have a reasonable case based on information received or observations made to presume that child abuse is occurring or will occur that they have to report that as well as [sic] relates to another member of the clergy.”
Last year, a similar bill was introduced in the California legislature, but was ultimately withdrawn before it could reach a vote. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles called the bill:
“a threat to the sacrament of confession that would have denied the right to confidential confessions to priests and tens of thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”