State lawmakers push for priests to report abuse learned about in confessional

by | Mar 15, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — Catholic leaders are pushing back against efforts to alter state laws that exempt clergy from reporting child abuse they hear about during the sacrament of confession, arguing the changes will force priests to choose between the law and their faith.Advocates for abuse survivors insist the changes are necessary, noting instances where abuse by a parishioner or even a cleric continued despite a priest learning about it during confession.
“It’s almost as though it is a pass for priests,” said Michael McDonnell, spokesperson for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We hope politicians in every state would be encouraged to produce some legislation that would further safeguard children from any unnecessary damage.”
The debate comes as lawmakers in at least three states — Vermont, Delaware and Washington — consider removing an exemption in mandatory reporter laws for what is often described as “clergy-penitent privilege.”
Similar to attorney-client privilege, it protects information discussed in a confidential pastoral conversation from being used in court, even if the information concerns child sex abuse.
Catholic authorities in each locality are lobbying to keep the carve-outs in place.
“Requiring clergy members to report child abuse learned during a penitential communication would infringe First Amendment rights of all Cathol …

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