SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, June 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica has called on the Central American nation to “discuss as a society” possible legislative action to force Catholic priests to tell authorities when they hear confessions of child abuse and pedophilia.
Proposed by Deputy Enrique Sanchez, a member of the president’s left-of-center Citizen Action Party, the bill would amend Article 206 of Costa Rica’s criminal code and require clergy and others who have contact with young people to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Priests who fail to report what they heard in confession about child sex abuse would be subject to fines, the bill stipulates.
According to local media, President Alvarado said, “As a nation, we have seen the issue of violence, which is sexual in this case against children, is a problem that concerns us on the basis of evidence, and is something important to learn.”
The bill is being considered by Costa Rica’s national congress. In May, Alvarado signed a bill that extended the statute of limitations from 10 to 25 years for crimes against minors.
Currently, Costa Rican law notes that only teachers and health care professional are mandated reporters of child sex abuse.
“We are expanding the requirement so that it is not only education and health centers but also places where children gather, ranging from sports, cultural and religious organizations,” Sanchez told local media. “Therefore, it would include responsible persons, for example, in the churches, in being obliged to report to the Public Ministry when they hear of a case or suspect abuse.”
Sanchez claimed that the obligation to inform authorities about suspected cases of child abuse is not limited to what is heard in confession but includes what mandated reporters hear outside the confessional. He said his bill is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, which asserts that the rights of minors supersede attorney-client privilege, and that child rights rise above religious doctrine, including the seal of confession recognized by the Catholic Church.
Sanchez said a priest, for example, would be required to report not only cases of sexual abuse, but also negligence and physical abuse. He added that he was inspired by a bill now being considered by the California legislature, which would require priests to report to police the sins they hear in confession.
Sanchez explained that under current law, clergy, some public officials, attorneys and other professionals can abstain from giving court testimony even when they have privileged knowledge about the abuse of minors.
In the text of the proposed law, it states that “ministers of religion enjoy an absolute protection under the so-called ‘secret of confession,’ while the aforementioned professionals and public officials have only protection related to the so-called ‘professional secret’ or ‘state secret,’ respectively.” It goes on to claim that it is “inexplicable” why a member of the clergy can abstain from giving testimony even when the interested party has allowed the airing of what was heard in confession.
While acknowledging that his proposal may irritate members of the Catholic Church, Sanchez said, “In accordance with Pope Francis’ mandate that called on national institutions to put into place all necessary measures to prevent impunity in these cases, I believe that the Church will have to rethink that the interests of the child come before any dogma that exists within the Church.”
Archbishop Jose Rafael Quiros of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, said, “The seal of confession must not be violated; what is said in confession must not be revealed.”
His statement echoes the Code of Canon Law in the Catholic Church, which notes that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” Catholic clergy who intentionally violate the secret face automatic excommunication.
A spokesman for the bishops’ conference of Costa Rica said the bill endangers religious liberty but does nothing in the cause of justice.