Yesterday, in a move that would be a welcome change to the law, California State Sen. Jerry Hill said he would file a bill to remove clergy members from a list of those exempt from reporting child abuse.
As it stands, if someone walks into a confessional booth and admits to molesting a child, the priest doesn’t have to do anything with that information. Just say a couple of Hail Marys and be done with it. Compare that to public school teachers, who are required by law to tell a social worker if they learn about (or suspect) a child being abused.
The Church, of course, doesn’t want to play by those rules. Vatican officials claim the “seal of confession” is sacrosanct. Anything said in a confessional booth must be kept secret no matter what.
That leads to absurd consequences. In Australia, for example, a priest confessed to committing 1,500 instances of molestation (not a typo) to 30 separate priests over 25 years. Because of the sacred seal, though, no one ever reported his crimes, allowing the abuse to continue.
If you aren’t willing to make changes that involve priests reporting information about sexual abuse against children, can you really be that committed to fixing this problem?
That’s what Hill wants to change in California with Senate Bill 360.
“Individuals who harm children or are suspected of harming children must be reported so a timely investigation by law enforcement can occur,” Hill said in a statement announcing Senate Bill 360.
“The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk,” Hill said.
Church officials are obviously against this. They don’t want to help children if it gets in the way of their archaic traditions. But it’s not helping their case when priests try to make an analogy that involves virgins and prostitutes.
“Like the ancient Roman emperors used to try to break young Christian virgins by threatening to expose them to brothels if they didn’t capitulate to their whims, so still today some leaders and governments try to break priests’ fidelity by forcing them to violate the confessional seal,” [Father John Landry] wrote [for the National Catholic Register].
Right. Same thing. Except in this case, kids are being protected, not raped. (I’m not surprised a priest would confuse the two.)
The bill has a long way to go before becoming law, but I hope this gets a lot of support in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Let the Church complain all it wants. It’s a horrible look for Catholic leaders to say they have a religious right to cover up their knowledge of child abuse, allowing it to happen again.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)