California is considering a proposed law that is nothing less than an attempt to jail innocent priests. California Senate Bill 360 seeks to change its law to force a priest, when he hears of sins in the confessional regarding sexual abuse, to make a choice. He must choose to either maintain the confidentiality of the sacrament and face possible imprisonment or to betray that confidentiality and violate his deepest conscience and the laws of God and the Roman Catholic Church. No priest I know would choose the latter.
In 1813, the New York Court of General Sessions commented on the Catholic sacrament of confession and the government’s proper role in respecting the secrecy of the confessional as a part of its constitutional duty to protect religious freedom. It said: “To decide that the minister shall promulgate what he receives in confession, is to declare that there shall be no penance; and this important branch of the Roman Catholic religion would be thus annihilated.”
If this bill is passed into law, California will commit precisely such an annihilation.
A privacy fundamental to Catholicism
It is essential to understand what the sacrament of penance means in the Catholic Church.
In this time of Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the redemption of our sins. The saving power of the cross is available to the people of God especially through the sacraments, those material symbols that give way to spiritual goods.
After baptism we still turn away from God through sin. To turn back to him is impossible for man to accomplish alone, he needs the grace of Christ, which is given especially in the forgiveness offered in the sacrament of penance, or confession.
Although the priest acts as an instrument, confession is fundamentally about the encounter of the penitent Christian with God; he admits his sins to God and through the priest receives God’s absolution. It is a privileged moment in which a person reveals the deepest part of his conscience to God.
Read more at USA Today