In the Catholic Church, the act of confession is a sacrament – the first step toward reconciliation, restitution, and, ultimately, redemption. Historically, anything shared with a priest during the act of confession was protected by law. Confession is considered a “sacred space” – and even if the penitent admitted to the most heinous crime, a priest could not break the seal of confession under any circumstances. In fact, many states have laws on the books that exempt both priests and attorneys from having to report even the most despicable crimes. Some even extend to protect communications between penitents and pastors in other religions, too.
Now, however, those laws may be changing. In the state of Delaware, for example, state lawmakers have introduced a new bill that would require priests to break confession in cases where the confessor reports details of alleged child abuse or neglect and report the details to law enforcement or state child protective services. If they don't, they could face a heavy fine. In the wake of the Catholic Church's Abuse Scandal – as well as a number of abuse scandals across other denominations in the United States and abroad – it is expected that other states will follow suit.
Is Your Confession Protected?
That depends on where you are located. For example, some states continue to have a confessional exception in its child abuse and neglect reporting law. New Jersey, however, does not. The state statute reads that “Any person having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse shall report the same immediately to the Division of Youth and Family Services or otherwise.”
That means, if you have confessed that you or someone you know may be abusing or neglecting a child, your priest or religious advisor must, under the law, contact the Division of Youth and Family Services to report the matter. It is likely your name will be included when they make that report.
Make Sure Your Rights Are Protected
Your faith is an important part of your life – and confession, as they say, is “good for the soul.” You should not have to change your religious practices or fail to say what you need to in order to receive your penance so you can receive forgiveness. That said, it's important to understand that if you share confidences regarding potential child abuse or neglect in the state of New Jersey, what's said in the confessional may not stay in the confessional. You may be contacted by the authorities and asked to provide more information on the matter.
If this occurs, you should engage experienced representation to help you communicate with the authorities – and deal with any related charges. When you retain attorney Joseph D. Lento and his criminal defense team at the Lento Law Firm, you will have someone on your side who will fight for you every step of the way and make sure your rights are protected. Contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today to discuss your case at (888) 535-3686 today.