Kentucky State Representative Susan Westrom has introduced legislation to abolish the legal confidentiality of statements made in confession to a priest (or by people of other faiths speaking to a minister, rabbi, etc.) According to Westrom’s bill, “The privilege shall not extend to any communication relating to the neglect or abuse of a minor child.” Should the bill become law, it will deter parents or other caregivers from seeking the help of priests and other religious counselors — especially since aggressive social workers tend to define “neglect” very broadly.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights explains: “This bill does not touch tangentially on church-state relations—it cuts to the core. The sanctity of the confessional is one of the most important elements of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Indeed, it is impossible to fathom how the sacrament could operate if the government is permitted to penetrate the privacy of the priest-penitent relationship. At stake is both the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment and the establishment clause….the cases of child sexual abuse that have come to light have had nothing to do with information learned in the confessional.”
The Kentucky bill — and similar bills sure to be introduced in other states — should be understood not simply as expressions of hostility towards religious freedom, but as important steps toward the total information state, in which all legal claims to privacy from state surveillance, such as the accountant-client privilege, are under attack.