I am grateful to the California Assembly Public Safety Committee members and staff for their thoughtful analysis and deliberation on Senate Bill 360, and I am thankful that the bill’s author, Senator Jerry Hill, has decided not to continue pursuing its passage this year.
This outcome is good for the Catholic people of California and for believers of all faiths, not only in this state but across the country.
SB 360 was a dangerous piece of legislation. It was a threat to the sacrament of confession that would have denied the right to confidential confessions to priests and tens of thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.
But SB 360 was more than that — it threatened the conscience of every American. If any legislature can force believers to reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings shared with God in confession, then truly there is no area of human life that is free or safe from government intrusion.
In these past few months, it has been inspiring to see so many awakening to this threat and coming together to speak out in defense of religious freedom.
Thanks to the faith and devotion of individual Catholics, parishes, and organizations, tens of thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls were made to lawmakers in Sacramento — including more than 140,000 letters and nearly 17,000 emails delivered from Catholics here in Los Angeles. This is a sign of the great faith and vitality of our Catholic community and the importance of confession to our religious identity and practice.
I would like to express my personal gratitude to the many faith leaders from across the country who came to our assistance in opposing SB 360. It is a beautiful thing to stand together with our brothers and sisters in the apostolic churches of the Catholic and Orthodox East, with Baptists and Pentecostals, Anglicans and Lutherans, Muslims and Jews, and the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Religious freedom is one of the foundations of American democracy. It can never be acceptable for government to interfere in how people pray or worship or live out their beliefs in society. And a threat to the freedom of one faith will always be a threat to the freedom of all of us.
These are matters that go beyond politics. And I pray that as believers we will all keep working together to defend our freedoms and promote our values in seeking to build a society of justice and compassion that serves the dignity of the human person.
From the beginning of this debate, we have argued that SB 360 would do nothing to protect children from the scourge of child abuse that is, unfortunately, found everywhere in our society.
In the Catholic Church, we have grappled with this scandal for many years. Across the state, dioceses have put in place policies and programs to keep children safe. We fingerprint and do background checks on Church personnel, we have staff who help victims, and we have strict protocols for dealing with allegations against priests and others who work for the Church.
As a result, new cases of child sexual abuse by priests are rare in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and other dioceses across California.
We know that every case is one too many. And the Church remains vigilant and totally committed to protecting children and to helping all victim-survivors to find healing.
So, as we thank God today for helping to keep confession sacred, we need to commit ourselves again — every one of us, in every faith and walk of life — to eliminate this scourge of abuse from our society and to see that every child is welcomed and loved, protected and safe.