A new bill would remove the privileged secrecy that priests have in sacramental confession in cases related to child abuse or neglect.
In response, the Diocese of Wilmington put out a statement that calls the idea “non-negotiable.”
House Bill 74 is sponsored by Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow, with 10 other Democrats and Republican Rep Dave Wilson, R-Seaford, listed as additional sponsors and co-sponsors.
“The sacrament of confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the church’s sacramental theology and practice,” the diocese said. “It is non-negotiable.
“No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances. To do so would incur an automatic excommunication that could only be pardoned by the pope himself. It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith.”
“While we support initiatives to make Delaware a safer place for minors and vulnerable adults, HB 74 would not contribute to such efforts in any meaningful way. Priests are already mandatory reporters under Delaware’s child abuse reporting law in all circumstances other than the sacrament of confession. Additionally, the Diocese of Wilmington’s own internal policies require all clergy to report suspected incidents of child abuse to civil authorities.”
Bob Krebs, communications director for the diocese, said that they do have a lobbyist in the legislature, but haven’t decided what they plan on doing to oppose the bill.
“There’s nothing that’s off the table,” he said. “We’re exploring all of our options now, but yeah it’s definitely something that’s very serious. We’ve already heard from a number of Catholics in the diocese about their disappointment that this is being proposed. We’re definitely going to be doing our best to make sure that the rights of the Catholics in Delaware are not cast aside in this manner.”
Several states – including North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and West Virginia – have passed legislation that doesn’t exempt sacraments from child abuse cases.
Since 1987, 190 similar bills have died in 33 state legislatures, according to the Associated Press.
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