Proposed laws would require clergy to report sexual abuse
IN-DEPTH COVERAGE
Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania speaks after legislation to respond to a grand jury report accusing hundreds of Roman Catholic priests of sexually abusing children over decades stalled. MARC LEVY/AP
PREVIOUS IMAGE
0/0
NEXT IMAGE
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post
WASHINGTON - In response to recent Catholic Church clergy sex abuse scandals, lawmakers in the District of Columbia and Virginia say they will soon propose legislation that adds clergy to the list of people mandated by law to report child abuse or neglect.

Both efforts address the hot-button intersection of child protection and religious liberty, but lawmakers are expected to give them an open reception at a time when recent sexual abuse scandals in churches and others involving athletes have prompted conversation about broadening legal responsibility to extend beyond positions such as teachers and doctors.

The ideas under consideration by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine include not exempting confidential conversations for any mandatory reporters, possibly including those that occur in the Catholic Church’s confessional. Texas, West Virginia and a few other states do not exclude the confessional in mandatory reporting laws, but it has been a stumbling block in many other places.


Under D.C. law, anyone 18 or over who knows or has reason to believe that a child under age 16 is a victim of sexual abuse is required to report it to civil officials. But the requirements of mandated reporters are more extensive, and Racine is considering taking them much further.

An eight-page presentation of key goals shared in recent weeks by Racine’s office with some D.C. faith groups proposed expanding the law to say mandated reporters must report suspected abuse, even if they don’t know the child them selves, or even if the child is now an adult. It also suggested requiring mandated reporters to tell their own boards of directors so their institutions become responsible, increases the penalties for people who don’t report and requests funding for training so mandatory reporters understand what that term obliges.

A few weeks after circulating the presentation, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Racine’s office emailed some faith leaders to say that the proposal was still a work in process and that a final version would be introduced for consideration by the D.C. Council early in 2019.

“Everything is still in the conversation,” Elizabeth Wilkins, Racine’s senior counsel for policy, told The Post when asked whether confidential conversations could still be included. “We think this is an urgent issue. If there are weaknesses (in the current mandatory reporting law), we want to fix them.”

Virginia’s narrower proposal, which is scheduled to be considered by the state legislature after the session begins Jan. 9, is sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, and delegates Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax County, and Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke.

As written, it would add clergy to the list of “persons who are required to report suspected” abuse, with an exception for when a faith’s doctrine requires the report “to be kept confidential.” The carve-out, lawmakers said, was added specifically to protect the confessional - a sacrament in Catholic doctrine.

MORE DETAILS

Twenty-eight states make clergy mandatory reporters, according to the Children’s Bureau, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services that works to end child abuse.

Those measures vary widely on allowances given to religious leaders - in particular whether their confidential conversations are protected. -WASHINGTON POST