The secret of confession was excluded from a bill that seeks to force adults to report suspicions of abuse, mistreatment or harassment to the detriment of minors. Initiative 21,415 led by the official Enrique Sánchez, sought to force priests to report this type of act that was reported by minors during confession. However, after its analysis and consultation stage, it was eliminated because it could be classified as unconstitutional.
“It was eliminated because the Attorney General’s Office told us that the article could be unconstitutional because Costa Rica has promised to respect canon law and by international agreements it could end up being unconstitutional,” explained Sánchez. The Episcopal Conference had expressed its opposition to that plan through a criterion issued to the Legislative Commission on Human Rights.
“Far from eradicating the scourge of sexual abuse against minors, it will constitute a serious danger to the exercise of religious freedom, especially of the inhabitants of the Republic who profess the Catholic faith,” responded the Episcopal Conference when it was consulted by the Assembly Legislative.
Beyond that, the deputy considered it inconceivable that a dogma is above acts against minors. This is the initiative that had unleashed the discomfort of the priest Sixto Varela who at that time, assured that he preferred to go to jail before revealing a confession. “If you have to go to jail, then we go to jail, but break the sacramental secrecy NEVER !!!! Dixit !! (sic), ”Varela wrote on Facebook in 2019 when the initiative was presented.
Those who will be obliged
The initiative expands the positions that would be required to report this type of situation to the detriment of minors. Currently, article 49 of the Childhood and Adolescence Code obliges workers in the education and health systems to file complaints with the Public Ministry.
With the agreed modification, it is extended to:
Contracted personnel and all personnel of legal age who have under their care and responsibility minors who participate within associations, foundations, social organizations or groups, of a public or private nature of cultural, religious, youth, educational, sports, recreational character or of religious denominations”. Sánchez specified that with respect to this point, if priests are in charge of minors in areas such as teaching, they would be obliged to respect this rule.
“The relevance of this project is that many abuses of minors are carried out by figures of power and authority in spaces of trust, which makes it difficult for victims to report,” he said. “That is why we want is that people who have permanent contact with minors, are also obliged to report, when they have indications or suspicions that a minor is abused,” he declared.
This project also has another article that reforms the Code of Criminal Procedure so that occupations with professional secrecy, are witnesses of those who have revealed some type of damage against them, committed when they were minors.
For example, if an adult tells his psychologist that he has been a victim of childhood abuse, said professional will be obliged to be his witness when the affected person decides to file the complaint. This bill was approved in the Human Rights Commission and now goes to the Plenary to continue with its final discussion with a view to the respective votes.