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Washington residents: Click here to lobby your legislators and bishops today

OLYMPIA, Washington (LifeSiteNews) — A bill in Washington that would force priests to violate the Seal of Confession is dead.

“SB 6298 has not been scheduled for an executive session, and thus will not be moving forward this session,” Washington State Catholic Conference spokeswoman Adrienne Joyce told LifeSiteNews this afternoon.

Under the proposed law, “clergy [have] a duty to warn the department or law enforcement when they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at imminent risk of being abused or neglected, even if that belief is informed by information obtained in part as a result of a penitential communication.”

Breaking the Seal of Confession is an excommunicable offense.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the ‘sacramental seal,’ because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains ‘sealed’ by the sacrament.

Legislative staffers confirmed the bill’s status in phone interviews with LifeSiteNews prior to Joyce’s email, as did the Diocese of Spokane. The diocese said the bill was “dead.”

Democratic Senator Noel Frame wrote the “compromise” bill this year alongside the WSCC, according to comments she made during last Friday’s hearing. While she wanted to eliminate all exemptions, she said this was the strongest bill she could currently pass.

Her communications director told LifeSiteNews this afternoon that the bill is all but dead.

“Today is the deadline for it to be passed out of committee,” Alex Bond said in a phone interview. “So, if it does not pass out of committee by the end of the day today, it is dead.”

While there is “one committee meeting” left today, it is “currently not on the schedule to do so.”

Republican Senator Phil Fortunato, a Catholic, opposed the bill. A staffer in his office told LifeSiteNews the bill is almost dead too.

It is “at a standstill” and has not been reassigned to a different committee since the February 16 hearing. “When it’s not referred, it should be considered dead,” the staffer told LifeSiteNews on a phone call today, saying the bill has until Friday to officially die. LifeSiteNews had asked for comment prior to getting the conference’s response.

Fortunato had criticized the Catholic Conference’s advocacy in support of the bill.

He wrote a letter, reviewed by LifeSiteNews, that shared his “grave concerns” about the conference’s “neutral” position on a provision that would require priests to violate the Seal of Confession in some circumstances.

The WSCC stated that it took “a neutral position on the ‘in part’ language because the broader exemption for penitential communications in the bill is critical to protect the Sacrament of Confession from state intrusion.”

“The duty to warn is such an intrusion,” the conference acknowledged, but claimed that it “can be avoided by following Safe Environment policies and pastoral care of a penitent confessing to ongoing sinfulness.”

The conference also said that a priest could ask a penitent who confesses to abuse to “visit with him or another mandatory reporter outside of the confessional.”

Fortunato questioned this logic in his letter to the conference.

“Why would someone ‘visit’ with a mandatory reporter if they knew they would be turned in? They simply would not go to confession and therefore not get the counseling to make amends for their actions,” he wrote. “If a priest hears something in confession and then gains other knowledge outside the confessional that together with the knowledge from confession, they now have a ‘duty to-warn.'”

He said this duty “is totally unenforceable, subjective and requires the priest to know who the penitent is.”

Fortunato failed to get his amendment passed that would “[affirm] that the knowledge which provides the basis for a duty to warn is not obtained in the context of a penitential communication.”

Catholic Conference doesn’t represent views of all bishops

Though the Catholic Conference purports to represent the views of the bishops, Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly opposed Senate Bill 6298.

Bp. Daly criticized a “misunderstanding” about the Seal of Confession, noting that a priest can withhold absolution if there is not a clear sign of “remorse,” last Friday on the Dr. Tom Curran Podcast.

Confession is “not a way to protect criminals,” the prelate said.

Priests are already required by the bishops in Washington and by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rules to report child abuse allegations obtained outside of the confessional.

“I’m always amazed when, for example, laws look specifically focusing on the Catholic Church, and yet we have institutions that have contact with far more young people, for example, the public schools – where is the scrutiny in the public schools on the protection of children?” the bishop asked.

“I think this is the wrong path to protect children,” he said.

He called on the “lay faithful” to “please contact your elected official and tell them your feelings about this thing” and to say this is the “wrong path” to “protect children.”

“No one provides more care for young people in education, in health care, social services than the Catholic Church. And yet our voice, I think at times, is dismissed,” he said.

He reiterated that SB 6298 is “not the path to follow.”

Though the Catholic Conference worked alongside Frame on the bill, the two took diverging views.

Sen. Frame said that a bill without exemptions for priests could not pass this year.

Yet, the Catholic Conference said “advocates are pushing for an amendment to this bill that would eliminate the exemption altogether, placing the priest in violation of the law in all circumstances where there is a confession of past or present abuse,” suggesting a no-exemptions law could pass.

Washington residents: Click here to lobby your legislators and bishops today