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North Dakota lawmaker withdraws bill requiring violation of seal of confession

A North Dakota bill that would have required priests to violate the seal of confession has been withdrawn by its co-sponsor. 

The bill, SB 2180, required priests or other religious figures to report cases of child abuse or neglect to the authorities if they learned about the abuse in a confession or private conversation. 

State Sen. Judy Lee (R-West Fargo), who co-sponsored the bill, requested on Jan. 29 that it be withdrawn from consideration. Lee said the controversial bill had become “a distraction” and cited a “lack of understanding about the goal and the circumstances.”

Current state law provides a religious exception for mandatory reporting of confirmed or suspected child abuse. Cases when “the knowledge or suspicion [of abuse] is derived from information received in the capacity of spiritual adviser,” such as in the confessional, do not require reporting the abuse to authorities. The bill sponsored by Lee and other senators would have revoked that exception.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference published a statement on Friday agreeing with Lee’s goals of fighting child abuse, but disagreeing over her legislation. 

“We share in Senator’s Lee call to do more to prevent child abuse.  We simply disagreed about the bill,” said a statement from the North Dakota Catholic Conference on its Facebook page on Friday. 

“The North Dakota Catholic Conference looks forward to working with her and all legislators for the protection of the weakest among us and the common good,” the conference said, thanking all who contacted their state senators in opposition to the legislation. 

Lee said that the conversation regarding child abuse “has to continue.” 

“We all need to do what we can to protect these little ones by intervening,” she said. 

Read more at Catholic News Agency

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