Page 5, 28th February 2003

28th February 2003
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Page 5, 28th February 2003 — New law will breach confessional seal, says US cardinal
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New law will breach confessional seal, says US cardinal

Cardinal will tell priests to 'ignore' Maryland plan

A SENIOR American cardinal has said he will ask priests to ignore a proposed law requiring priests in the state of Maryland to break the seal of confession to disclose cases of child abuse.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said last week that if the Maryland General Assembly approved the law he would instruct all priests within the Archdiocese of Washington who serve in Maryland to disregard it.

"On this issue, I will gladly plead civil disobedience and willingly — if not gladly — go to jail," the cardinal wrote in the Catholic Standard, the Washington archdiocese's weekly newspaper.

In the wake of the Church's child sexual abuse scandal, state legislatures across the United States are considering proposals aimed at preventing abuse by priests and at increasing the time victims have to sue the Church.

The states of Connecticut. Pennsylvania and California have extended their statutes of limitation, and Massachusetts passed a law last year requiring clergy to report any child abuse, except information obtained in a confessional. Similar bills have been introduced in other states, including Virginia, and lawmakers in Kentucky and New Hampshire want to eliminate the priest-penitent privilege altogether.

But so far, just two of the 33 states that require clergy to report child sexual abuse specifically include information obtained in the confessional. Current Maryland law. for example, contains a broad exemption for the clergy to protect such information.

But a bill pushed by Democrat Senator Delores Kelley would require priests to report any information about child abuse obtained in the confessional, unless it was a direct admission from the perpetrator.

Priests would have to report information offered by victims during confession, as well as information from third parties, such as the wife of a suspected abuser. The bill contains no penalties for failure to comply.

Some legal experts have questioned the bill's constitutionality, but victim support groups say the current clergy exemption is too broad. Ellen Mugmon, legislative chairwoman of the Maryland State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, said: "It should be the highest moral responsibility to protect children in their own congregation.

'The scandals have made it abundantly clear that reporting by religious organisations, and not just the Catholic Church, hasn't occurred—and to dicasn-ous effect," she told the Washington Post.

The Church's sexual abuse scandal came to light early last year in Boston when the press reports disclosed that Church officials there had allegedly covered up child abuse by several priests, reassigned them to parishes even after their misconduct had been established, and negotiated secret settlements with victims. The scandal spread across the country as victims came forward.

Cardinal McCarrick's spokeswoman said last week that the Archdiocese of Washington has instructed its priests to inform both civil authorities and the archdiocese about allegations of child abuse, including by priests, since the early 1990s.




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