Editorials on SB 5280 / HB 1098

In response to this Editorial by the Seattle Times (Feb. 16, 2023) recommending that the Washington State Legislature pass a law requiring priests to break the seal of the confessional in order to report instances of child sexual abuse, I wrote a 600-word op-ed in response. That op-ed was rejected by the Times on February 23, though the opinion page editor suggested I try again with a 200-word Letter to the Editor. I tried again, and that also was not published. This despite the Times printing another op-ed that agreed with their position on Feb. 21 and two Letters to the Editor that also agreed with their position (here and here) and only one that challenged them (here).

If the Times is unwilling to give space to well-informed, dissenting voices, then I am forced to publish them here on my personal website.

Op-Ed (Submitted Feb. 19, 2023)

Re: The Editorial Board’s stance from Feb. 16, 2023, regarding House Bill 1098.

“Religion and government must coexist within a society of laws and norms. And when they intersect, society should determine which entity is serving the greater good.”

In Washington State, the Catholic Church is the largest social service provider after the government itself. Across our state, St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities make essential assistance and needed housing available for hundreds of thousands, Catholic health care treats more than one in seven patients, and Catholic schools annually educate nearly 30,000 students. And yet, the Seattle Times believes that our church is so aloof from the greater good that the government must take control of one of the most central and sacred spaces in our faith: the confessional.

Nearly my entire life as a Catholic has been marked by the clergy sexual abuse crisis and every day of my priesthood has been lived in the shadow of the assumption that I am a closet pedophile. I believe too strongly in the Lord Jesus and the apostolic Church to find my way to any other faith or vocation, but I know I will spend the rest of my life doing penance for sins I did not commit. And, I should say, I am resolved to do it, because penance must be done on behalf of the victims who found harm behind the collar, rather than healing.

We have learned our lesson, and today sexual abuse of minors is nearly non-existent in the U.S. Church (source). By Archdiocesan policy, if not yet state law, I am already a mandatory reporter for child sexual abuse. The most heart-wrenching day of my priesthood occurred when a minor, knowing we were in a private conversation but not realizing we were not in confession, told me about sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. I remember how my stomach turned when I called the Archdiocese and heard, in the strongest terms possible, that my next call would be to CPS. I remember breaking the news to this minor, who saw this as a betrayal of trust. I remember the meeting with her parents.

Mandatory reporter laws and policies are essential. I am not sure if I would have had the courage to do the right thing if it had not been required of me. I could easily have rationalized saying nothing, in the name of maintaining the trust shown to me, rather than acting to protect someone who could not protect herself. This law is the right thing to do.

However, it is disheartening that the state cannot also find a way to respect the sanctity of the confessional, a seal continuously maintained by the Catholic Church since at least A.D. 459* and historically supported by the First Amendment and the Supreme Court. A seal taken so seriously by my Church that I would be immediately and automatically excommunicated should I violate it. A seal that I have personally seen, over and over again, allow grave sinners the freedom to express true contrition and receive the saving forgiveness of Jesus Christ for their salvation. I would not trade the salvation of a sinner for anything on Earth.

The Legislature must make its own decision here. It should simply know that fines and imprisonment will never compel me nor my fellow priests to betray the confessional. Imitating the Apostle Peter, we must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29). Legislate accordingly.

Fr. Jeffrey Moore was raised in Burien and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Seattle in 2017. He is currently assigned to the Church of the Assumption in Bellingham.

*Cf. Pope Leo I’s letter to the Bishops of Roman Rural Districts in “The Christian Faith”, ed. by Jacques Dupuis.

Letter to the Editor (submitted Feb. 23, 2023)

Re: HB 1098

By Archdiocesan policy, I am already a mandatory reporter. That policy pushed me to do the right thing in an important moment, so I ardently support this law. But not at the expense of the confessional.

No one seems to be advocating to remove attorney-client privilege for child abusers. Why? Because we believe that the integrity of the justice system matters enough to make an exception in limited cases.

So is the justice system real and God is not? Does judgement matter but not forgiveness? Or maybe we only accept the Lord’s mercy on Protestant terms, believing the priest to be superfluous. Regardless, it seems to be open sport on the confessional because no carve-out need be considered for a belief system as obsolete and meaningless as Catholicism.

I have personally witnessed the secrecy of the confessional allow horrible sinners the freedom to beg forgiveness and amend their life. I would not trade the salvation of a sinner for anything on Earth. No threat of fines or imprisonment will ever cause me (or my fellow priests) to betray the confessional. The seal is absolute. We will follow God, rather than men (Acts 5:29).

-Fr. Jeffrey Moore, Bellingham


  1. Jan says:

    God Bless you Father for so eloquently stating your sacred beliefs and stance.

  2. Dan Parsons says:

    I am behind you 100%. Govt. is getting out of han

  3. Joe says:

    If lawyers know that their client has broken the law, must they report it to law enforcement?

    If doctors know that a patient is going to die, must they inform insurance companies?

    Evil Spirit knows our dirty secrets. Even if blackmailable, it isn’t something that the spirit of the world can use against us.

  4. Dave Berger says:

    I spent the better part of 17 years working in Child Protective Services. It astounds me now that the representatives of a system that fails again and again and again can attack a religious activity that has been held sacred and inviolable since the founding of this nation. Better their efforts should be directed to correcting these deficiencies.

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