Earlier this year, Wi State Representative Melissa Sargent of Madison, explained to a pastor what it REALLY meant to listen to Jesus. Now together with Reps. Chris Taylor and Sen. Lena Taylor, Sargent is presuming to intrude on the relationship between priest and penitent by requiring priests report allegations of child abuse that are heard in confession (see below).
There are a number of potential problems with the proposed legislation (which I haven’t read and can’t find on the Wisconsin statehouse website).
First, it’s an intrusion into the internal life of a religious community. The legislation re-defines for its own purposes the nature of confession.
Second, and following from this, the loss of confidentiality has a potential chilling effect on the priest/penitent relationship. In a global sense, if people think that the priest might reveal the content of their confessions to law enforcement they will likely be guarded in what they say to him.
Undermining priest/penitent can also harm the very people the bill seeks to protects: victims of sexual abuse. Requiring clergy to report what we hear in confession means that we would be legally obligated to violate the confidentiality of victims. Under these circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for a person who has been abuse to forgo speaking to his or her parish priest because of the credible fear that the priest would report the conversation to the State.
Third and finally, the bill seeks to punish clergy who have not violated our pastoral and moral responsibilities. Worse, innocent clergy AND penitents (including victims of sexual abuse) would have their rights curtailed because of the actions of others.
You can read more about the latest swipe at religious liberty here.