SACRAMENTO — A bill that would require California religious leaders to report their co-workers’ confessions of child abuse or neglect has been put on hold amid opposition from the Catholic church.
California law already requires clergy to report knowledge of child abuse and neglect. But they can keep it a secret if they learned about it during a confession.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo, wrote a bill this year to change that, but only if the confession was from another religious leader or someone who works at the church. It passed the Senate by a vote of 30-4 in May.
On Tuesday, Hill announced he was putting the bill on hold because it did not have enough support to pass the state Assembly. But Hill said the issue remains important to him, and he vowed to continue his efforts to pass it.
Catholic Conference of California Opposed Bill
“Senate Bill 360 has one purpose only, not to restrict faith, but to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable of the faithful: children,” Hill said in a news release. “I strongly believe that for any institution self-policing and self-investigation are not effective ways to combat alleged abuse, as our own state Legislature has found.”
The state Legislature recently reformed how it investigates sexual misconduct claims against its own members after facing intense criticism.
The Catholic Conference of California had opposed the bill. The organization gave written comments to the legislature saying the church “agrees with the general principle that all youth should be protected from sexual abuse.”
But the conference added everyone has “the right to confess sins anonymously and confidentially,” saying the bill would deny that right to thousands of the church’s employees “based solely upon their particular religious and employment status.”
Recent Cases in the Valley
Catholic dioceses across the country have recently revealed reports of widespread sexual abuse by priests and other church leaders. In California, the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento released a list of more than 40 priests in April it says have been accused of sexual abuse. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a law firm suing California bishops compiled a list of more than 200 clergy it says have been accused of sexual abuse.
In June, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno announced that a priest who once served at a Fresno parish had been placed on paid administrative leave because of sexual abuse allegations. Father Eric Swearingen had been assigned to a Visalia church since 2014, but has been on a long medical leave. Abuse accusations against Swearingen date back to 2002.
At the time of the action against Swearingen, the Fresno diocese had seven of its priests on leave amid ongoing investigations.
In April, Craig Harrison, a monsignor in Bakersfield, was placed on paid leave following an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in Firebaugh.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno announced the suspension of Msgr. Craig Harrison in a news release Thursday. Allegations of sexual misconduct against Harrison date back to 2003.