[Opinion] ‘Seal of confession’ threat withdrawal astute

Duluth News Tribune

February 1, 2021

By Roxane Salonen

Under canon law, Catholic priests are forbidden from breaking the “seal of confession” by revealing what they’ve heard in the confessional. Doing so leads to automatic excommunication. Additionally, removing the assurance of confidentiality would have inhibited criminals from coming forward to confess their sins, and deter others from this sacrament of healing.

North Dakota Senate Bill 2180 was withdrawn for legislative consideration Friday, bringing a victory for religious freedom. The bill, if approved, could have turned some pastors into criminals, not for their own sins, but for complying with the divine duty of hearing other’s sins — and not divulging them.

Prior to the withdrawal, Chris Dodson of the North Dakota Catholic Conference said North Dakotans had been responding “en masse against this bill,” while “the eyes of the nation …” watched.

The bill zeroed in on the reporting of abuse, removing an exemption for clergy who garner such information specifically in their role as spiritual adviser. Spiritual ministers are already included among those mandated to report knowledge or suspicion of abuse.

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