Costa Rica’s president, Carlos Alvarado, has asked to “discuss as a society” the creation of a bill that would force Catholic priests to denounce cases of child abuse and pedophilia they learned during confessions.

The text, promoted by legislator Enrique Sánchez – member of the same ruling party, the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), proposes to extend to religious, youth, cultural and sports groups the obligation to report cases of sexual assault against minors of those who have knowledge.

A text that some sectors of the Catholic Church of the country have described as “a danger for religious freedom.”

“As a nation, we have seen the issue of violence, which is sexual in this case against children, is a problem that concerns us on the basis of evidence and is something important to learn,” president Alvarado told La Nación.

A proposed bill would require clergy and others who have contact with young people to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Currently, Costa Rican law notes that only teachers and health care professionals are mandated reporters of child sex abuse.

The proposed bill that is being considered by the Legislative Assembly (Congress) would amend Article 206 of Costa Rica’s criminal code (Codigo Penal), requiring clergy and others who have contact with young people to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Currently, only teachers and health care professionals are mandated to report child sex abuse.

“We are expanding the requirement so that it is not only education and health centers but also places where children gather, ranging from sports, cultural and religious organizations,” Sanchez said. “Therefore, it would include responsible persons, for example, in the churches, in being obliged to report to the Public Ministry when they hear of a case or suspect abuse.”

Sanchez added that the obligation to inform authorities about suspected cases of child abuse is not limited to what is heard in confession but includes what is heard outside the confessional. He said his bill is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, which asserts that the rights of minors supersede attorney-client privilege, and that child rights rise above religious doctrine, including the seal of confession recognized by the Catholic Church.

If the bill is adopted, priests would be required to report not only cases of sexual abuse, but also negligence and physical abuse and be asked to be a witness in the trial.

Sanchez said he was inspired by a bill now being considered by the California legislature.

Monseñor José Rafael Quirós, Archbishop of San Jose, told, “The seal of confession must not be violated; what is said in confession must not be revealed.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “Obliging to disrespect sacramental secrecy is, rather, a danger to the practice of religious freedom of Catholics in general and little or nothing will help the administration of justice in pursuing the possible author of a crime, endangering religious liberty but does nothing in the cause of justice.”

The Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica (bishops’ conference) added that the priest is obliged to keep sacramental secrecy, “for which it is strictly forbidden for the confessor to discover the penitent, in word or otherwise, and for any reason (Canon 983. 1).”

The canonical penalty for the priest who directly disrespects the sacramental secrecy is excommunication (canon 1388),” said Catholic priest Mauricio Granados.

Last month, president Alvarado signed a bill that extended the statute of limitations from 10 to 25 years for crimes against minors.

According to the Poder Judicial, in 2018 there were 8,229 denuncias (criminal complaints) of a sexual nature against minors.