California: Sex Abuse Victims Support Accountability

The Sacramento Bee reported on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, that “A procession of sexual assault victims urged the California State Senate to pass a law requiring priests and other religious leaders to report child abuse, ending a legal exemption that allows them to keep information confidential if they learn it during confessions.”

One speaker, Kameron Torres, told lawmakers that he was sexually abused twice while growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness community. When his mother learned of the abuse and tried to report it to the church elders, “They told her, “It’s in God’s hands now,” Torres said.

Torres has since left that community, but said his abusers are still there and still in positions of power over potential victims. “The universe is telling us to protect the children,” Torres said.

While members of the clergy are considered mandated reporters of abuse — meaning state law compels them to inform the police if they suspect a child being abused — there is an exemption to that requirement if the priest learns of the abuse through “penitential communication,” such as the Catholic rite of confession.

Senate Bill 360 erases that exemption, and puts “religious folks on a level playing field with other mandated reporters,” such as doctors, lawyers, and mental health professionals, said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Skinner and other lawmakers took testimony from both supporters and opponents of the bill. Opposing the bill were representatives from the California Catholic Conference and the Pacific Justice Institute Center for Public Policy. Andrew Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told lawmakers that the bill if passed, would make religious adherents less likely to consult with their spiritual leaders. “I don’t think anyone would use the penitential communication any longer. It would be gone,” he said.

Kevin Snider, who serves as legal counsel for the institute, cautioned lawmakers against overturning the Catholic seal of confession, which he called a “millennia-old religious practice.” Snider said SB 360 would conflict not just with Catholic beliefs, but practices in certain Protestant denominations, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Church of Scientology as well.

He said the bill “requires the clergy to sail between the Scylla and Charybdis,” referring to a tale in the Odyssey in which sailors had to pass between two deadly dangers. Failing to disclose abuse would be a misdemeanor offense while breaking the seal of confession would result in immediate excommunication from the church, he said. Snider also warned that SB 360 would infringe on the clergy’s First Amendment-protected religious beliefs. “The church should not be used as a tool of the state,” he said.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson told Snider that “the First Amendment is not unlimited. We do have laws prohibiting bigamy (also a practice for some religions).” Jackson pointed out that SB 360 is necessary because “we have had a plague, an epidemic of excuses and claims of religion which have allowed pedophiles and abusers to exist in this country and this world unfettered for far too long.”

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said that while the cause of SB 360 was “righteous,” he worried that it could be “an expensive disappointment after a few years” if the law were to be struck down in a legal challenge. “There are times when the courts are the avenues we need to pursue,” Jackson said, adding that it might be appropriate for the United States Supreme Court to settle the matter.

As the bill hearing came to a close, Skinner, herself an abuse survivor, thanked those survivors who spoke Tuesday and offered them some advice. “It does get easier to speak about it, but the experiences you experienced, they never go away. You don’t forget,” she said.

After the hearing Tuesday, Torres said he was confident in SB 360’s prospects. “I think we have a strong argument. I think it’s pretty obvious they (those who opposed the bill) didn’t. It’s time. It’s beyond time,” he said.

{The original article was written and updated by Andrew Sheeler for The Sacramento Bee on April 2, 2019. Link to original…}

FOX40, a local television station serving California’s Sacramento and Stockton areas, also ran a story on this same case but focused more on the problem of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their history of protecting pedophiles. Here are some quotes from their excellent presentation:

POSTED 9:37 PM, APRIL 3, 2019, BY :

California lawmakers are hoping to reverse hundreds of years of tradition in the Catholic church and mandate that priests who hear of child sexual abuses in confession report it to law enforcement.

“The victims are told to be quiet, abusers are let go, free. Nothing happens to them and the cycle repeats and repeats,” said Kameron Torres.

It was just two years ago Torres, as he puts it, woke up to the brainwashing of being a Jehovah’s Witness. He says at 6 years old he was sexually abused by a person of authority within the church and that nothing was done about it.

“You go to meetup groups, that’s what happened to me, and I started hearing the same stories,” Torres told FOX40. “I realized very quickly it wasn’t just me.”

Torres says abuses happen in many religious denominations and too often the abuser gets away with it. He’s now helping lawmakers push Senate Bill 360 to end the silence around abuse.

“SB 360 requires clergy to report suspected child abuse or neglect,” said Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The question many have now is does the bill go too far?

It would challenge centuries of church tradition in which priests are sworn not to violate their promise to God to keep what’s said in confession private.

“It would undermine the entire sacrament of confession for something that’s not likely to happen,” said Steve Pehanich with the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Pehanich said SB 360 would essentially put clergy in an impossible position and violate California laws or violate their oath to God.

Pehanich added if the aim is to stop sexual abuse within the ranks of the clergy and stop the church from hiding those abuses, this isn’t the solution.

“We all want to protect children, especially now, but this bill is not going to do it,” he said.

Current law does exempt clergy from reporting crimes they hear about during confession but lawmakers say it’s time for California to change that.

“It is immoral and against God’s will for people to abuse children and I think it is the responsibility of the state to do everything it can to make sure that does not continue,” said Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Torres said he and others will continue to fight for the bill as church leaders push back.

“It’s misusing this exemption for clergy,” he said.

“The confessor is not confessing to the priest, he or she is confessing to God,” Pehanich said.

The bill did advance out of its first committee 5-0 but two senators didn’t vote at all.

[ LINK to original article as posted on FOX40 News at 10 ]



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