When the New Hampshire legislature began to consider a bill that would force priests to report confession secrets involving child abuse to the State, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) immediately got involved in the controversy. Now it appears this controversy has saved the Seal of Confession… at least for the present.
This was the second attempt in three years where the state’s Legislature has debated a proposal to remove the priest-penitent privilege. Had it passed, the law would have been the first of its kind in the United States and set a dangerous precedent. Fortunately, the bill has been sent for “interim study” where it can only be reintroduced toward the end of the year.
As part of its efforts to defend the sacrament of Confession, the American TFP asked friends and readers to let their voices be heard by sending protest emails to the members of the Children and Family Law Committee. Hundreds of such protests reached legislators who were asked to reject HB 1127 as not in the state’s interest. The TFP also published a half-page ad, “Seal of Confession: Religious Persecution Looms Over America” in the February 13 edition of the Concord Monitor in the New Hampshire state capital.
Many priests, who already must report abuse outside confession, have said they would rather go to jail than violate their sacred trust inside the confessional. 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). 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.
Even from a pragmatic point of view, HB 1127 is absurd. Indeed there is no evidence that such reporting would decrease child abuse in any way. On the contrary, 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. If one sin can be reported, what is to stop other sins from being reported as well?
That is why the Diocese of Manchester strongly denounced House Bill 1127 calling it “unnecessary,” and a bill that “does nothing to further the state’s and the Church’s interest in protecting children.”
The American TFP also manifested its concern that the attack on the Seal of Confession is more than just an isolated bill. Rather it cites these efforts as part of the larger onslaught against the Church beginning in January 2002.
Liberal elements in the media have used the clergy sexual abuse scandals as the pretext for their attack on the Catholic Church, Her hierarchical structure and Her moral teachings. In emotional issues like these, they are quick to be joined by dissident Catholics, promoters of the homosexual agenda, and activist judges.
The American TFP applauds the decision by New Hampshire lawmakers not to pass HB 1127 and prays the “interim study” will find that the state has absolutely no business inside the confessional.