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Earlier this year, California Democrat state Sen. Jerry Hill introduced the (CANRA) Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (SB 360), which demands priests and other clergy to file a report should they learn of child abuse in confession or counseling. Priests are now exempt from reporting crimes they learn about during the confession; but CANRA (SB 360) is about to change that because it overcame the first major hurdle: It passed through the Senate Appropriations committee 4-2, which means it can now be voted on by the full State Senate. The two people who voted against the bill — Senators Patricia C. Bates and Brian W. Jones — are both Republicans, while the rest are Democrats.
According to Life Site News, Senator Jerry Hill said upon introducing the bill that he wants to preserve "the safety and protection of children. Individuals who harm children or are suspected of harming children must be reported so a timely investigation of law enforcement can occur. The law should apply equally to all professionals...with no exceptions period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk." He also 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.” In Australia, for example, a priest confessed to committing 1,500 instances of molestation to 30 separate priests over 25 years. The sacred seal prevented those priests from reporting the crimes, so his abuse continued.
As was expected, the Catholic Church is against the Bill stating that anything said during the confession should be 100 percent confidential. The California Catholic Conference has warned that SB 360 is an assault on the constitutional guarantees for the free exercise of religion adding that it would do nothing to protect children because if the promise of confidentiality no longer exists in confession, penitents will be much less likely to approach a priest for confession. They are arguing that even the amended Bill violates religious freedom.
The amendment changed the Bill in the way that it now says that anything told to a priest in a confessional can still remain confidential, unless the person confessing to abuse is a clergy member or someone else working in the same building. This is not the best solution but it can help protect children from abuse by those who are employees of the Church. That is why it is important for this Bill to pass further and become a part of the legislation.