The Delaware General Assembly is considering a bill that would require Roman Catholic priests to break the seal of confession to report child abuse and neglect, prompting condemnation from the Diocese of Wilmington.
House Bill 74, the sponsors of which include state Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Sokola, could be heard before the House Judiciary Committee within weeks, according to OSV News.
The Diocese of Wilmington condemned the proposed law, noting that priests are bound by the sacrament of reconciliation from breaking the seal of confession, according to the outlet. Catholic canon law mandates that a priest who violates the seal of confession is automatically excommunicated.
"The sacrament of confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the church’s sacramental theology and practice. It is non-negotiable," the diocese said in a statement Monday.
"No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances. To do so would incur an automatic excommunication that could only be pardoned by the pope himself," the diocese continued. "It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith."
"While we support initiatives to make Delaware a safer place for minors and vulnerable adults, HB 74 would not contribute to such efforts in any meaningful way," the diocese added.
The diocese, which noted its internal policies already require clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse to civil authorities, further argued that HB 74 would not only violate the religious right of clergy-penitent privilege, but could also lead to unintended consequences.
In addition to violating a core tenet of the Catholic faith, the diocese said the legal obligation established by such a law would be impractical, given that most confessions are anonymous.
"The Diocese of Wilmington considers the protection of the vulnerable to be one of the most important aims of public policy," the diocese added. "However, this legislation would not advance that vital objective."
The Delaware bill mirrors similar bills introduced in Utah and Vermont that have also drawn criticism from Catholic leaders. Washington and Kansas are also in the process of implementing measures that would require clergy to be listed as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect.
Bishop Thomas Daly of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, told the Washington Examiner last week that priests and bishops in the state would choose imprisonment over complying with a law that would force them to break the seal of confession.
"Priests and bishops will go to jail rather than break the seal of confession," Daly told the outlet. "I'm confident that the priests in [the Diocese of Spokane] and my brother bishops would do that, so sacred is that bond."