California recently tried and failed to pass a bill that would’ve forced Catholic priests to report alleged sexual abuse to authorities even if they learned about it during Confession. The Catholic Church and its allies opposed the sensible change, arguing that breaking the “seal of Confession” would violate their religious beliefs. An amended version of the bill passed through the Senate Appropriations committee, but it was withdrawn by its sponsor out of fear that the votes just weren’t there.
But now Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin are trying to get it done there. Reps. Chris Taylor and Melissa Sargent and Sen. Lena Taylor filed two bills this week that would force priests to report abuse and change the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault so they could sue their abusers without having to worry about a legal clock running out. (As the law stands, victims have until they’re 35 to go after their attackers. The new bill would abolish that age limit.)
Once again, the Catholic Church is pushing back against the idea of transparency that could protect children.
But church groups say that the reporting language in current law is strong enough and necessary to protect the pastoral rights of clergy and the privacy of congregants. Any reporting requirement should accommodate distinct pastoral circumstances under which sexual assault could be disclosed, including a hospital, battlefield, emergency situations and “other times when people of faith are called to bear witness to a spiritual survivor,” the groups wrote in a joint letter to Rep. Chris Taylor last month.
That’s a fancy way of saying they want what happens during Confession to stay in Confession.
It’s not likely that the bills will pass given how Republicans have an edge in both the State House and Senate, but filing these bills allows for further discussion about the topic, and the Catholic Church has no argument here. The more people learn about the issue, the more they realize the Church can’t be trusted to put the well-being of children over their own dogma. Their allegiance is to their faith, not the faithful. So what if more kids have to suffer, right? As long as the Church keeps getting special treatment.
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