No religion is safe if priests are forced to violate confessional seal

If priests are forced to violate the confessional seal, no religion is safe a Dominican priest says.

A proposed change in law in California would legally require priests to violate the sacramental seal of confession in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.

Fr Pius Pietrzyk OP, who is an assistant professor of canon law, says the bill would force a priest who in the confessional hears about sins regarding sexual abuse to choose to “face possible imprisonment or to betray that confidentiality and violate his deepest conscience and the laws of God and the Roman Catholic Church”.

Under the Seal of Confession, priests are not allowed to disclose anything they learn during the course of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“If a core principle as deeply ingrained in Catholic tradition and doctrine can be wiped away this easily by the state, no fundamental rights of religion or conscience are safe.”

In his view, the bill is “nothing less than an attempt to jail innocent priests”.

Although he thinks the purpose of mandatory reporting statutes is good, he says “there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose cases of abuse learned of in the confessional would have prevented a single case of child abuse”.

Instead, he says, “There is every reason to believe the elimination of the privilege would mean that perpetrators would simply not bring it to confession”.

In California, over 40 professions, including clergy, are already covered by state law requiring them to notify civil authorities in cases of suspected abuse or neglect of children.

However, current law provides an exemption for “penitential communications” between individuals and their ministers if the requirement of confidentiality is rooted in church doctrine.

The senator who introduced the bill says the law “should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period”.

He says exempting clergy only “protects the abuser and places children at further risk”.


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