Lawmakers in the District of Columbia and Virginia are working together on legislation that would affect how child abuse and neglect cases are handled. This comes on the heels of the many reports of sex abuse by Catholic Church clergy members in states throughout the country, including Pennsylvania.
The proposed law would require clergy members to report the abuse, expanding their legal responsibility by making them mandatory reporters. Though the topic is open to debate from religious liberty and child protection advocates, it may face less opposition because of the recent scandals. It is currently being reviewed by a D.C. Attorney General, and its final version may be introduced to the D.C. Council early this year.
The bill is in its early stages, but one of its main goals is to make confidential discussions by clergy members non-exempt. This includes those that took place in church confession booths. It would also be expanded to include discussions about a child that the clergy member did not know, and conversations about past abuse. Furthermore, the bill would mandate that the clergy members share the alleged abuse with their institutions by informing its board members. This could make the churches liable as well.
In addition, the bill suggests increased penalties for individuals who fail to report abuse. It also recommends that clergy members be trained about the stipulations of being a mandatory reporter. Local faith organizations have been voicing support, but Catholic Church members are concerned about the confessional, which is sacred to them. Some argue that making it non-exempt may affect religious liberty. In point, they feel that both the abused and abusers may not share their stories if they fear retaliation or criminal prosecution.
There are 28 states, including Pennsylvania, that require clergy members to be mandatory reporters. The specifics for this vary by state, and some may not protect confidential conversations. This could start to change with the proposal and continuing sex abuse scandals.
A member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington commented on the topic of privileged conversations between religious leaders and congregation members. He said that finding the right balance between confidentiality and obtaining justice for victims was not an easy task. He added that his community supported the legislation, and that most religious groups agreed.
With more sexual abuse victims speaking out, the power and reputation of religious institutions have come into question. Legislators are trying to work with these organizations to preserve their traditions while protecting the rights of their members. The road ahead may be difficult, but it seems as though the time has come to make some effective changes.
Although progress has been made, there are still cases of past and present sexual abuse and mistreatment by clergy members. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you do not have to face this alone. Call an experienced Scranton clergy abuse lawyer at Williams Cedar today. Contact us at 215-557-0099 or complete an online form to arrange a free consultation. With offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout Allentown, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Johnstown, Eerie, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.