SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The Catholic Church is fighting a bill in Sacramento that would require priests to break the centuries-old tradition of keeping someone’s confession a secret.
The bill, authored by State Senator Jerry Hill, is intended to help protect children from abuse.
“Clergy have been exempted from full reporting, if they believe the conversation was intended to be confidential,” Hill said, adding that priests should have the same mandatory reporting requirements as doctors or therapists.
“Instead of protecting children, some have been shielding abusers,” he said.
But to Catholics, confession is sacred. It’s in the confessional where parishoners can bare their souls.
Priests sit face to face or on the other side of a thin veil to listen, provide counsel and prayers.
They take a vow to keep what they hear secret, called “the seal of confession.”
“This proposed legislation would require priests to break that seal,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of San Jose in a video that was shown in masses on Sunday.
Cantu asked followers to call on their legislators to vote against SB 360.
“This measure would chip away with government intrusion at one of the most sacred aspects of our Catholic faith,” he said.
One parishioner said confession is like a religious form of attorney-client privilege.
“People forget that when you confess to a priest, he is just there as a helper, an intermediary, you are confessing to God and that is very sacred. Nobody can come between that,” said Darlene Tenes, a parishioner at St. John Vianney.
“You need a place where people can say anything no matter how bad it is,” said Thomas Plant, a psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University who studies the clergy sexual abuse problem.
Plante said priests are already mandatory reporters when they hear of abuse outside of the confessional.
He predicts the law would be ineffective.
“If a person in the confessional believes that something is going to get reported, they won’t say anything,” Plante said.
SB 360 has passed the Senate, but now faces a tougher fight in the Assembly.