Sacramento, Calif., Jul 9, 2019 / 07:00 am
A California bill that would have required priests to violate the seal of confession has been withdrawn by its sponsor the day before it was to be debated in committee.
California Senate Bill 360 was removed Monday from the agenda for a meeting of the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee scheduled for July 9. The decision by the bill’s sponsor, state Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), came just hours after the Public Safety Committee released a report on the bill July 8. That report raised a number of First Amendment concerns with the proposed legislation.
The bill, which passed the state senate in May by a wide margin, would have required a member of the clergy to violate the seal in some circumstances, if they learned about child abuse while hearing the confessions of other priests or Church officials.
In addition to religious liberty objections, many - including the Public Safety Committee report - noted that the bill would be almost impossible to enforce. Hill’s decision to drop the measure also followed widespread public opposition to the proposed law. Over 100,000 Catholics sent letters voicing their opposition to SB 360. After the senate vote in May, Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland issued a statement saying that neither he nor any of his priests would abide by the law if it came into effect.
“I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom,” wrote Barber in May. “Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it.
The California Catholic Conference put out a statement Monday welcoming the withdrawal of the bill as a victory for religious freedom.
“This outcome is good for the Catholic people of California and for believers of all faiths, not only in this state but across the country,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles in a statement.
“SB 360 was a dangerous piece of legislation. It was a threat to the sacrament of confession that would have denied the right to confidential confessions to priests and tens of thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries,” he added.