SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) – A proposed state bill that would require clergy members to report suspected child abuse or neglect even if they learn of it during confession passed its first committee vote.

Clergy members are among a list of more than 40 “mandated reporters,” meaning they are required under state law to report suspected abuse. But that doesn’t apply if they learn about something during a private communication such as confession, a sacrosanct practice in the Catholic church.

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Senate Bill 360 by Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill would eliminate that exemption.

The bill was voted on Tuesday by members of the Senate Public Safety Committee and passed 5-0, with two senators abstaining from voting. It has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee who will determine the bill’s fiscal impact on the state budget. The date of that vote has not been determined, but it must clear that committee by May 17 to continue with the approval process.

“The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes – with no exceptions, period,” he said in a statement. “The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk.”

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Clergy includes priests and ministers as well as rabbis or other religious practitioners. Under state law, clergy can assert privilege over a “penitential communication,” which is a statement made in confidence that the clergy must keep secret based on church doctrine.

The California Catholic Conference says it supports clergy’s role as mandated reporters but opposes expanding that to cover confession.

“Getting the government in the confessional has nothing to do with protecting children and has everything to do with eroding the basic rights and liberties we have as Americans,” said Steve Pehanich, the group’s spokesman.

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