California Set to Force Priests to Tell the State What is Said in Confession


California is set to take the next step to destroy its citizens’ religious freedom by floating a new bill that would force priests to tell the state what they learned from their parishioners in confession.

This bill would eliminate one of the most sacred relationships between a pastor and his flock — the confidential discussions between priest and congregant.

As The Federalist reports:

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Bill 360, introduced by Democrat state Sen. Jerry Hill, would “delete that exception for a penitential communication, thereby requiring clergy to make a mandated report even if they acquired the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication.” This is an egregious overreach of secular authority, stepping into sacred religious rites, and will not protect children or stem the tide of child abuse.

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The Federalist continues:

Upon ordination, clergy members take vows to not disclose the sins they hear during confession, and violating that oath has strong moral repercussions. For Catholic priests, “any priest who directly betrays a penitent would incur an immediate and automatic excommunication.” In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the ordination vows read in part: “Will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you?”

Likewise, the Episcopal Church dictates that: “Under no circumstances may the information given be revealed by the priest, unless the penitent gives permission.” The conservative Anglican Church in North America also discusses this importance of maintaining confidentiality in confession: “Lastly, the seal, being absolute, means that if a person confesses to a crime—even if they tell you where they buried the body—the priest has no ability to act upon what he has heard in any way. He cannot make an anonymous report to the authorities.”

Now comes the state to tell these religions that these practices that are in some cases hundreds of years old are now “illegal.”

What is this if not the very example of a violation of religious freedom?

Worse, it is a violation of the very reason many people work to become priests and ministers in the first place.

As Federalist writes in summation:

People do not enter seminaries with aspirations of becoming informants on hurting and devastated people. Rather, they enter the ministry to help people spiritually, and their rights to do so in America must be protected and fought for. Do we have the right to free exercise of religion, or do we not?

Ah, but according to the state of California, priests are now to be considered informants for the state.

That will no less than eliminate any chance that parishioners will ever confide in priests and ministers. This is little else but an end run around the First Amendment and a way to weaken freedom of religion.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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