New bill could punish priests with jailtime for not reporting abuse confessions

North Dakota could become the first state in the nation to force clergy to fess up.

BISMARCK — A bill just introduced at the North Dakota statehouse would force clergy to share some information learned during confession or other private religion conversations. Under the new bill, if they refuse they could end up in jail.

That bill in the senate would force Catholic priests to go against the seal of confession by forcing them to call police when people report child abuse to them.

Under state law, clergy are considered mandatory reporters of suspected crimes. However, there is an exception. Pastors and priests are not required to report information they learn as a spiritual advisor.

Senator Judy Lee of West Fargo wants to change that with bill 2180. The bill would threaten a priest or pastor to 30 days in jail if they refuse to report suspected abuse.

"I have a hard time thinking it's ethical, or moral or even religious. I don't care if it's a Shaman, a Rabbi, a priest or a pastor or whoever it might be, for them not to recognize, particularly that a child might be abused and not report it," Lee said.


She says this is not about arresting the offender, but getting that child help. Catholic critics of the bill say priests often recommend that an abuser or victims gets help when they report such cases during confession. They also feel it would be counterproductive and victims would be scared to speak up for help.

"Do you cross this line which violates first amendment issues, expectation of privacy parishioners have and be counterproductive," said North Dakota Catholic Conference executive director Christopher Dodson.

The Catholic League said no other state in the country requires priests to divulge information during confession. They said Utah and California tried it last year, but it got shut down.

Other stories:

'Cookie Man' gives back to nurses and doctors after saving his life

Solidarity March brings awareness to local tragedy

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
What To Read Next
Get Local