California advances bill to violate sacramental seal

Catholic News Agency

by Catholic News Agency

.- State senators in California have voted to approve a law that would require priests to violate the seal of confession. Senate Bill 360 passed Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure.

The bill would require priests to report any knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained while hearing the confession of another priest or colleague.

In a statement released Friday, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said he was “deeply disappointed” by the result and insisted that strong child protection measures did not require the violation of the sanctity of the sacrament of confession.

A previous draft of the law would have compelled the violation of the sacramental seal any time a priest came to suspect abuse from any penitent. In a statement released Monday, Gomez acknowledged the changes but said that “no government, for whatever reason, should violate the privacy and confidentiality of that sacred conversation.”

“SB 360 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 sacramental seal is covered by civil law in many jurisdictions around the world. The “clergy-penitent privilege” is widely regarded as a fundamental exercise of religious liberty.

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 the volume of investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Critics of the proposed legislation have noted that sacramental confession between accomplices is invalid unless in imminent danger of death, as is the absolution of a penitent who intends to reoffend.

Similar legislation is currently under consideration in Western Australia, following the recommendations of a Royal Commission report into clerical sexual abuse.

While the commission’s executive summary states that “the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed… to inadequate institutional responses to abuse,” it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have already passed similar laws mandating that clergy report suspected abuse in violation of the seal of confession.

Despite the interventions of Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, Western Australia’s Child Protection Minister, Simone McGurk, said the matter was non-negotiable.

“I’ve received calls from the Archbishop of Perth, as has the [Prime Minister], but we think the time for discussion about this has passed,” McGurk said.

“I understand that is the Catholic Church’s position, however as a Government we have an obligation to put in place laws and to implement those laws to make sure that children in our community are safe and that is what we are doing.”

Canon law describes the seal of the confessional to be “inviolable”, and priests are “absolutely forbidden” to disclose the sins of a penitent “in any way, for any reason.” Violation of the seal by a priest is a grave crime against the faith and is punished by an automatic excommunication which can be augmented with other penalties, including dismissal from the clerical state.

COMING UP: St. Scholastica parish in Erie has served community for well over 100 years

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For more than a century, St. Scholastica Catholic Church has served the faithful in the northern community of Erie, Colo. Over time there have been many changes to the structure of the parish, but it still stands on the same foundation that Benedictine pastor Father Cornelius Enders set in place in 1899.

Vibrant, spiritually alive, and welcoming is how St. Scholastica can be described. For years, the church formed part of a circuit assigned to one priest of different parishes and missions, but four years ago, Father Robert Wedow was assigned to St. Scholastica as its first full-time pastor in history.

Since day one, Father Wedow knew there was a lot of work to do for the growing community: “To do what Jesus told us. To go to the ends of earth and baptize all the nation,” said Father Wedow to the Denver Catholic about his mission.

In order to accomplish that mission, he and the pastoral council came up with a parish plan that consists of three goals for the church.

“One of the goals is what we call our spiritual needs, to understand and begin to use our resources to meet the spiritual needs of the people of Erie. The second one is the evangelization of ourselves and others. And the third one is the development of our parish so that we will put ourselves to be able to have a brand-new parish,” he said.

The altar at St. Scholastica was recently renovated and blessed by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. The Erie parish has served the community for over 120 years. (Photos by Brandon Young)

When he first became the pastor of St. Scholastica, Father Wedow noticed things in the church that required maintenance and renovations in order to keep serving the community in Erie. Among those renovations were the floors, the carpet and the altar of the church that was starting to break apart. On Oct. 13, after months of hard work and dedication, parishioners and friends attended a special ceremony in which Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the new altar at St. Scholastica, one of the biggest renovations.

For a parish of approximately 200 families, St. Scholastica offers a wide range of ministries to meet the needs of the whole family. From youth groups, bible study and the Knights of Columbus, the community stays involved and keeps growing bigger and stronger.

To serve the community and continue evangelizing, the church holds a variety of fun events throughout the year where parishioners have the opportunity to help others while having a good time. Among these events is St. Scholastica’s Annual “Cookies and Caroling,” where the community gathers to make delicious cookies, then goes door to door and hands them out to the neighbors while caroling and wishing them a Merry Christmas.

“I personally think what’s unique about my parish is the powerful love of the volunteers and the way in which they show their love for God and for their neighbor,” Father Wedow said.

Although there is still much work to be done in the 120-year-old parish, Father Robert continues to work hard and does everything in his hands to meet the needs of his growing community.

“It’s a great privilege for me to be able to serve the people of Erie and to be a part of this growing community. May the joy of seeing the face of God overwhelm us all, as we celebrate the true gift of Christmas at Christmas night mass,” concluded Father Wedow.