Diocese issues statement regarding proposed Delaware bill that repeals the priest-penitent privilege in some instances in the Sacrament of Confession

March 7, 2023 — (Wilmington, Delaware) — The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington has issued a public statement on HB 74, the proposed bill before the Delaware General Assembly that would abrogate the privilege between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession relating to child abuse and neglect:

The Sacrament of Confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the Church’s sacramental theology and practice.  It is nonnegotiable.  No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances.  To do so would incur an automatic excommunication that could only be pardoned by the Pope himself.   It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith. 

While we support initiatives to make Delaware a safer place for minors and vulnerable adults, HB 74 would not contribute to such efforts in any meaningful way.  Priests are already mandatory reporters under Delaware’s child abuse reporting law in all circumstances other than the Sacrament of Confession.  Additionally, the Diocese of Wilmington’s own internal policies require all clergy to report suspected incidents of child abuse to civil authorities. 

HB 74 would not only infringe on the rights of a variety of faith communities, it would also give rise to a number of unintended consequences. Among them would be creating a requirement in law that would be nearly impossible to meet in a practical sense (the overwhelming majority of sacramental confessions are anonymous) and wholly impossible to meet without violating a fundamental tenet of our faith. The Diocese of Wilmington considers the protection of the vulnerable to be one of the most important aims of public policy. However, this legislation would not advance that vital objective.

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington was established in 1868 and comprises 56 parishes, 18 missions and 27 schools serving the State of Delaware and the nine counties of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Information about the diocese is available at www.cdow.org.

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Media Contact: Bob Krebs
[email protected]