U.S. and California flags fly in front of the dome of the California Capitol in Sacramento May 9, 2019. California state Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill has introduced legislation that would require priests in the state to report to authorities information related to child sexual abuse learned in a confession.(CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
(Second in a series)
By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNS) — When Catholic clergy, penitents, theologians and canon lawyers look at the wording in a California state bill that would compel a priest to reveal what’s heard during confession if there is a suspicion of child sexual abuse, they see an infringement on religious freedom.
California state Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat, listens to another state legislator on the Senate floor at the California Capitol in Sacramento May 9, 2019. Hill has introduced legislation that would require priests in California to report to authorities information related to child sexual abuse learned in a confession from another priest or coworker. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
But the man who introduced S.B. 360 — California Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo — sees it as eliminating a loophole in the law that would ultimately help protect children from sexual predators.
As it is in many U.S. states, California requires priests, teachers, social workers, doctors and other professionals to be “mandated reporters.” That means by law they are required to report any case of suspected abuse to authorities.
There is currently an exemption in California law for any clergy member “who acquires knowledge or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication.”