Intercultural Human Rights Law Review

First Page



There is no gainsaying the fact that the near-pandemic social ill of child sex abuse calls for urgent attention given the many dire effects of the crime. Harm to children is not suffered by them alone. The immediate family, parents, and friends also suffer with them. Moreover, society is burdened by the existence of child sex abuse as it is called on to restore the physical and mental health of these often traumatized younger members. To nip this problem in the bud, pursuing the philosophy of early detection, all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have enacted statutes that mandate certain individuals to report known or suspected cases of child abuse to stipulated authorities and criminal sanctions are imposed for failing to report. The Catholic Church has been, in recent times, on the front pages of newspapers regarding instances of child sex abuse. Priests have been accused and, in fact, convicted of the crime. As a consequence, there has been a call for the repeal of priest-penitent privilege statutes in cases of child sex abuse. While many states retain the priest-penitent privilege, some states, such as Connecticut, Mississippi,' New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia, abrogated it in cases of child abuse. This paper intends to examine the constitutionality of these priest-penitent privilege-abrogating statutes. The effect of the abrogation is that priests would be compelled on subpoena to disclose the confessions of an alleged child sex abuser.' They would also be required to testify in court about allegations of child abuse, even if they learned about it in confidential counseling sessions. The statutes, in plain language, are telling child abusers, especially sexual abusers, that they no longer have a hiding place and can no longer use the seal of confession as a protective shield. The implied assumptions of these statutes are: (1) that the seal of confession aids and abets child abuse; and (2) priests have caused the high prevalence of child sex molestation in society.