E-mail Assault Launched over NH 'Confession' Bill

By Kathryn Marchocki
Union Leader [New Hampshire]
Downloaded May 2, 2003

A conservative, Catholic lay group has launched an e-mail assault on New Hampshire state legislators asking them to defeat a bill that could force religious leaders to divulge details of child sexual abuse they learn about in the confessional.

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property of Spring Grove, Pa., also is targeting two New Hampshire newspapers asking for fair press coverage of the issue.

State Rep. Edward R. "Ted" Leach, R-Hancock, yesterday said he has received about 628 e-mails since Tuesday night pressing him to strike down any legislative effort to break the seal of confession.

All the e-mails were identical and all were signed, "A Concerned Catholic," he said. He said he believes the approximate 320 state representatives who have e-mail also received them.

"Since there is absolutely no evidence that reporting sins revealed to a priest in confession would protect children, I beseech you not to break the seal of confession, the sacred sacrament of the Catholic Church," the e-mail reads.

"The state has no right telling the church how to run the confessional," it continues.

A House bill filed in January seeks to amend the state law that exempts religious leaders from testifying in court about what is told to them during confession or in confidence as a spiritual adviser.

Its sponsors have said they filed it to block any loopholes that would prevent an incident of child sexual abuse from being reported.

Priests already are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect under the state's child protection law.

The bill, which had a hearing in February, remains in the Child and Family Law Committee.

Leach said he replied to one of the e-mails.

"I said I agree with your position, but e-mail attacks on the Legislature ... are very counterproductive. You are building a tremendous reservoir of ill will," Leach said yesterday.

New Hampshire is the only state targeted so far on this issue by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, said the organization's secretary, Robert E. Ritchie.

The group also has targeted The Union Leader and the Concord Monitor, he said.

The Union Leader has received about 130 pre-printed postcards by mail since Tuesday asking for fair press coverage of the issue.

The cards bear postmarks from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware. None bear New Hampshire postmarks.

The Catholic Diocese of Manchester said it was unaware of the mass mailings until informed of it yesterday by those receiving them.

"We have nothing to do with this," spokesman Pat McGee said.

The diocese will be sending letters to state legislators informing them it had no role in the mailings and its attorney e-mailed the organization to say "this isn't the way we do things and we ask you to stop," McGee said.

The diocese opposes any effort to break the seal of confession, he said.

"We certainly have dialogue with the legislators to make our positions known. But we do it in a responsible fashion and wouldn't use a tactic to overburden someone like this," McGee said.


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