In 2003 the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property—TFP helped to voice the Catholic outcry across the nation against legislative bills in several states that would oblige a priest to break the Seal of Confession. Many Catholic cardinals, bishops and priests affirmed they would go to jail rather than comply with such iniquitous laws.1 Due to the protest, none of these bills became law. New Hampshire was one state where such a law was proposed in 2003.
Now, three years later, a second attempt is under way in the Granite State. In January, State Representatives Mary Stuart Gile (D-Merr. 10) and Donald A. Brueggemann (D-Merr. 12) introduced House Bill 1127. This bill is presently under consideration in the Children and Family Law Committee.
Breaking the Bond of Secrecy Would Institutionalize Mistrust
HB 1127 removes the clergy confidentiality exception for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. Current law exempts religious ministers from disclosing to authorities “a confession or confidence made to them in their professional character as spiritual advisers.”2 HB 1127 would change this so that whenever the “confession or confidence” involves child abuse, the priest will be required to report the incident to law enforcement officers. Any priest refusing to do so is guilty of a misdemeanor.3
The American TFP vehemently protests this unconstitutional initiative which violates the most fundamental right of New Hampshire Catholics to practice their faith without government interference.
According to natural law, confidences received under an explicit or implicit promise of secrecy cannot be disclosed, except in extreme situations. Doing so destroys the trust needed for a normal, harmonious relationship among people. Obligatory reporting destroys the loving trust between husband and wife, parents and children, and the trustful, transparent relations that should exist between clergy and faithful, attorneys and clients, doctors and patients. This natural law norm can only be dispensed with in the most extreme circumstances because the institutionalization of mistrust brings greater harm to society than the supposed good being sought.4
Divine Law Forbids the Violation of the Seal of Confession
If, on the natural plane, confidentiality in counseling is essential for the good functioning of society, on the supernatural plane—where the Sacrament of Confession rests—confidentiality is an absolute necessity. The need for confidentiality stems not merely from a law of the natural order, but from an imposition of Divine Law which allows no exception.
Confession or Penance is a Sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the Catholic priest, serving as a visible instrument of the Savior, in His name and by His Divine power, pardons the sins confessed to him. And since Confession would become odious without an absolute guarantee of secrecy, the latter is an indispensable condition for the Sacrament.5
A Priest Who Violates the Seal of Confession Incurs Automatic Excommunication
Moreover, Catholic ecclesiastical discipline imposes the most severe sanctions on priests who violate the Seal of Confession. Should a confessor directly violate the Seal of Confession, he incurs automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See (Code of Canon Law, no. 1388 §1).6
A law forcing priests to break the Seal of Confession will place them in the excruciating dilemma of choosing to obey God and the Church or a secularist law! Priests faithful to their sublime calling will answer with Saint Peter: “We ought to obey God, rather than men.”7
An Ineffective Law
Even from a pragmatic point of view, HB 1127 is absurd. Those guilty of child sexual abuse will simply be more likely to avoid Confession. However, in abstaining from Confession, criminals cut themselves off from the benefits of the Sacrament and thus from supernatural grace and the possibility of effectively quitting their sinful ways.
Knowledge that the Seal of Confession is no longer an absolute in the eyes of the state will have a chilling effect on all Catholics, possibly leading many to stay away from the Sacrament. Would instilling suspicion and fear in the hearts of ordinary Catholics be the real intent behind HB 1127?
Alliance of Dissident Catholics and Anti-Catholic Activists
The attack on the Seal of Confession is part of the larger onslaught against the Church beginning in January 2002. Liberal elements in the media used the clergy sexual abuse scandals as the pretext for their attack on the Catholic Church and Her moral teachings. They were quickly joined by dissident Catholics, promoters of the homosexual agenda, and activist judges.
When State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile introduced her first bill on the Seal of Confession in 2003, she was supported by Anne Coughlin, a New Hampshire leader of the liberal Catholic organization Voice of the Faithful. A February 12, 2003 article in the Eagle Tribune reported:
Anne Coughlin…said the attorney general never agreed that the confession was exempt from the reporting requirements….
Coughlin, a member of Voice of the Faithful, an organization that formed in the wake of the clergy abuse cases, said the last thing the Catholic Church should be doing now is protecting its secrecy that covered up and denied years of abuse.
In her testimony to lawmakers, Coughlin said it is unconstitutional to grant any one church an exemption to the law that does not apply to all clergy uniformly. She also rebutted Quinlan’s argument for protecting the “seal of the confession,” noting that there is no scriptural basis for it.8
A Wake-up Call for Catholics Nationwide
If the New Hampshire General Court approves HB 1127 it will prove that a persecution against the Catholic Church has begun in America.
We urge New Hampshire Catholics to organize themselves, protest, and defeat this bill and any similar attempt to violate the Seal of Confession. HB 1127 needs to die in committee. If despite protests, it passes the committee and goes to the full House, we urge Catholics to consider daily legal and peaceful protests outside the General Court, with signs and banners to raise public awareness, until this bill is buried.
May Our Lady, Patroness of America, protect us from religious persecution, and obtain from her Divine Son courage and perseverance for all American Catholics in the struggle to defend the Church.
February 3, 2006
The American TFP
As published in the Concord Monitor of February 13.
- “Cardinal William F. Keeler of Baltimore and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington… promised to go to jail rather than obey a law requiring them to break the seal of the sacrament.” “Confessional Seal Under Attack in Several States,” America, Mar. 24, 2003, at https://americamagazine.org/catholicnews.cfm?articleTypeID=29&textID=2864&issueID=427#.
- RSA 516:35.
- RSA 169-C:39.
- Fr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J., Moral Philosophy (Longmanns, Green & Co.: London, 1929), p. 232.
- Cf. Luiz Sergio Solimeo, “Confession, the Sacrament of Divine Mercy,” at www.tfp.org/TFPForum/catholic_perspective/confession.htm.
- Cf. TFP, “A Sacred Trust Threatened: Breaking the Seal of Confession,” at www.tfp.org/what_we_do/index/confession_crusade.htm.
- Acts 5:29.
- Dan Tuhohy, “Bill Asks Priests to Tell Secrets,” at www.eagletribune.com/news/stories/20030212/NH_002.htm.