People of Faith Under Attack
This week, I’m writing about the recent attempt by the California State Senate championed by Sen. Gerald (Jerry) Hill (D-San Mateo) to force a priest, minister, rabbi or imam to report crimes against children, especially sex crimes, when shared with these members of the “clergy” in what is known as the priest penitent privilege. This column is limited in space, so a discussion of the privilege isn’t possible. Suffice it to say that the privilege is not recognized in English common law but is a part of the law in all 50 states. Is this just a Catholic thing? No, it’s not.
On July 9, there was a victory when SB 360 was pulled at the last minute because the bill’s author, Sen. Hill, decided to shelve his bill after learning that it did not have enough votes to pass out of committee.
This happened because there was a massive outpouring against the bill, not only by Catholics, but by members of all faiths all across the country.
“On July 8, a statement signed by Muslim, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist faith leaders as well as representatives from Eastern Catholic rites historic and black churches was delivered to committee members declaring that we are all one with American Roman Catholics in condemning the attack on religious freedom that the current version of California Senate Bill 360 represents.”
Here is the deeper question. What was it that made Sen. Hill and those who voted for this bill believe that it was okay to attack a major religion, and in fact, most religions? No doubt, like many things politicians propose, his intention was to protect children. Intentions are not a substitute for reasoned analysis. The old saw about the road to hell is operative here.
There is no evidence that this change in the privilege would have protected one child. For Catholics, confession may take place face-to-face, but more likely is behind the screen so the priest can never be sure who was confessing and thus the penitent can unburden his soul and seek forgiveness. The Catholic priest hearing a confession is required to maintain secrecy. Should he break that vow, he would be excommunicated and of course no longer be a priest. In the past, Catholic priests have gone to jail rather than break this sacred trust.
I am a Catholic and I am acutely aware of the failings of my church when it comes to crimes involving priests and children. There is no evidence that priests, more precisely child molesters, had confessed this heinous crime to a fellow priest, nor is there any known instance where anyone had made a confession to a priest about molesting a child. (I know it’s secret.)
No, what happened was the bureaucracy of the church lost sight of who the victim was and tried to protect the church by failing to notify authorities when information came to their attention so that a proper police investigation could commence. When bureaucracies protect themselves in the hope of sparing the institution embarrassment, they eventually make things much worse both for the victims and the institution.
If you were to ask Assemblywoman Cottie Petri-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) how she would vote on this measure after hearing from dozens of her constituents, what would she say? I asked, and here’s her answer from her chief of staff: “SB 360 is being held in Assembly Public Safety Committee, and it’s not moving forward this year. Right now it’s a theoretical version of a bill, and could still be amended, so the Assemblywoman will consider it if it comes up for a vote on [a] committee she sits on, or if it comes to the Assembly Floor.”
So, we really don’t know what her position is.
What we do know is that 27 Democrat members of the California Senate voted for it, joined by three Republicans. Only one Democrat voted against it. Republican Sen. John Moorlach, representing the 37th Senate District which includes Laguna Beach, abstained, saying he wanted to send the Catholic Church a message. I hope they received it.
Emil Monda has lived in Laguna Beach for 25 years with his wife, Michèle, and three sons. He is president of the Laguna Beach Republicans and a member of the Laguna Art Museum Board of Trustees.