‘No priest may obey’ proposed law, California bishop says

Oakland, Calif., May 29, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of the Diocese of Oakland, California, has said he would sooner accept arrest and prison than comply with a state law that would force priests to violate the seal of confession. Barber made the statement in a letter released to the diocese on Tuesday.

“I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom,” wrote Barber.

“Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it. The protection of your right to confess to God and have your sins forgiven in total privacy must be protected. I urge you to contact your State Senator today to protest this bill.”

The bishop said he is entirely in favor of laws that protect children from abuse, and supports the work undertaken by the Church to ensure the safety of minors. But, he insisted, this support does not extend to Senate Bill 360, a proposed state law which would force priests and other religious ministers to report suspected cases of child abuse involation of priest-penitent priviledge.

Barber said that a local priest had come forward to tell him his teenage parishioners were now afraid to receive the sacrament of reconciliation out of fear the priest would go to the police with their sins. He called the bill “misguided,” and said it “does nothing to support our efforts” to promote safe environments.

Senate Bill 360 was amended to require the sacramental seal be violated in instances where a presit learns of or suspects abuse while hearing the confession of a fellow priest or colleague. The bill was originally drafted to require priests to violate the seal if they came to suspect abuse following the confession of any penitent whatsoever.

The bill passed the California Senate on Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure.

In a statement after that vote, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said he was “deeply disappointed” by the result and that, even with the amendments that had been made to it before the vote it “still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

Despite recent investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis in different countries and jurisdictions, no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Per Canon Law, priests who violate the seal of confession by sharing anything learned within the sacramental context to anyone, at any time, for any reason is subject to automatic excommunication and and further punishments, including loss of the clerical state.

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  1. There is freedom of Religion in this the United States of America and any violation of this RIGHT is contrary to our American Values. Under no circumstances would we violate the tenets of our Religion regardless of the consequences. WE MUST STAND TALL FOR OUR RIGHTS!!!!

  2. Actually Bishop Barber SJ is required to accept jail if the only option is his refusing a direct violation of the Seal of Confession. A forthright pronouncement by the Bishop. Furthermore that “The bill passed the California Senate on Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure” – is illegal contrary to the Constitution’s 1st Amendment on Religious Freedom. We can safely assume the Framers understood what Catholicism believed and would have added a condition to the Amendment if the Seal were an issue. We need to thank Pres Trump for adding two Constitutionally invested justices to the Supreme Court that likely ensures this violation will be denied. Danger, and a very high risk danger would be a change of Administration in November and presumably a US Senate that would support this evil, and I would add increased evils regarding right to life of the unborn, the unwanted post natal infant, the elderly, the incompetent that will resemble the anti life policy of Germany between the W Wars. That policy was initiated by secular humanist professionals Karl Binding legal scholar Alfred Hoche Psychiatrist in 1920 classic Authorization to End Life Unworthy of Life. The argument made to eliminate the handicapped as a benevolent measure to end unnecessary suffering, and relieve the State of financial burden is parallel to a now globally accepted amoral premise the UN in the forefront. Unfortunately if the US Senate mirrors the current House they will likely legislate what will become the rule of the land obviating the Judiciary. I would add increased danger lies in the apparent drift of Catholicism in that direction indicated in the radical makeover of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, appeal by the Vatican to support the UN. Shift of moral focus from personal sanctity to a global ecology again indicated in celebrating Laudato Si during this pandemic. This year 2020 has the potential as a watershed for good or for evil.

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