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California bill would require clergy to report child sex abuse disclosed in confession

A confessional is a small, enclosed booth used for the Sacrament of Penance, often called confession, or Reconciliation.
A confessional is a small, enclosed booth used for the Sacrament of Penance, often called confession, or Reconciliation.
Photo by N i c o l a via Flickr Creative Commons

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A California lawmaker said Wednesday the state should require clergy members to report suspected child abuse or neglect even if they learn of it during confession.

Clergy members are among a list of more than 40 “mandated reporters,” meaning they are required under state law to report suspected abuse. But that doesn’t apply if they learn about something during a private communication such as confession, a sacrosanct practice in the Catholic church.

A bill by Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill would eliminate that exemption.

Clergy includes priests and ministers as well as rabbis or other religious practitioners. Under state law, clergy can assert privilege over a “penitential communication,” which is a statement made in confidence that the clergy must keep secret based on church doctrine.

While the bill deals broadly with child abuse and neglect reporting, Hill linked it directly to widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic church, saying clergy have been accused of covering up for other abusers.

The California Catholic Conference in Sacramento provided this statement:
“Clergy are already mandatory reporters. We support that and would do nothing to change it. Inserting government into the Confessional does nothing to protect children and everything to erode the fundamental constitutional rights and liberties we enjoy as Americans. It’s also why courts here and around the world respect the special nature of spiritual counseling.”

With files from the Associated Press.


Andrew Sheeler, reporter for McClatchy covering California's unique political climate who’s been following the story; he tweets @andrewsheeler

Tim Stier, former priest who served for 25 years before leaving the active priesthood in 2005

Father Alex Gaitan, associate pastor at San Gabriel Mission Catholic Community

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