BAKERSFIELD, CA. — A state bill going through the legislature would require clergy members to report suspected child abuse and neglect even if they learn about it in confession.
Monsignor Perry Kavookjian is among religious leaders pushing back on the proposed bill.
"It would be a huge disservice, I think to people’s ability to express themselves freely, especially in a spiritual way, and I think its an affront to religious freedom," said Kavookjian.
Kavookjian said the legislation would violate their religious beliefs. Clergy members could be excommunicated from the church if they share information revealed to them in confession.
"We are forbidden from church law, from sacred law, from revealing what has been shared with us in a sacramental way," said Kavookjian.
Under state law, clergy members are on the list of mandated reporters required by law to report suspected child abuse. However, they are currently exceptions.
"If this happens in the sacrament of confession, if someone reveals that to us in the confines of the confessional, then we are prevented from divulging that information," said Kavookjian.
The proposed bill would eliminate that protection.
The legislation is being spearheaded in response to the history of widespread sex abuse within the Catholic Church.
"There is a way to go about it and push the church to be more accountable and to be more transparent and that is by cleaning house, being accountable for the abuse we are aware of and to act openly and honestly," said Kavookjian.
In response to the proposed legislation, The Diocese of Fresno provided this statement to 23ABC:
"Catholic clergy are mandatory reporters for incidents of child abuse or neglect. The Church supports maintaining this status for its ordained ministers, and is dedicated to constant vigilance in the protection of minors. SB 360, however, would require Catholic priests to report incidents of abuse or neglect communicated during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Maintaining confidentiality during Confession is essential for the Church to pass on the merciful love of Jesus Christ to sinners. At the state and federal levels, American law has consistently recognized the sacredness of confessional statements among all religious bodies—not just among Catholics—and provides carve-out exceptions to protect religious ministers from being compelled to reveal information communicated in a penitential setting. Any legal measure requiring priests to violate the Confessional seal is a direct attack on the liberty of the Church, and an infringement on our First Amendment right to free exercise of religion."