When you confess to a member of the clergy, do you have any real expectation that it will be kept confidential? Of course you do. Confession is a sacred act. As a matter of faith, we are encouraged to confess our sins.
Upon ordination, clergy members take vows to not disclose the sins they hear during confession, and violating that oath has strong moral repercussions. For Catholic priests, “any priest who directly betrays a penitent would incur an immediate and automatic excommunication.” In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the ordination vows read in part:“Will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you?”
Likewise, the Episcopal Church dictates that: “Under no circumstances may the information given be revealed by the priest, unless the penitent gives permission.” The conservative Anglican Church in North America also discusses this importance of maintaining confidentiality in confession: “Lastly, the seal, being absolute, means that if a person confesses to a crime—even if they tell you where they buried the body—the priest has no ability to act upon what he has heard in any way. He cannot make an anonymous report to the authorities.”
And so … religious freedom is at stake. May God grant wisdom to our leaders to resist this legislation.
A new bill in California seeks to intrude on one of the most sacred relationships—that between clergy and penitent in formal confession. Currently, clergy members are already mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, but sins confessed specifically in confession are exempt under current law from mandatory reporting.
Bill 360, introduced by Democrat state Sen. Jerry Hill, would “delete that exception for a penitential communication, thereby requiring clergy to make a mandated report even if they acquired the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication.” This is an egregious overreach of secular authority, stepping into sacred religious rites, and will not protect children or stem the tide of child abuse.