Catholics Asked to Protest Bill Dealing with Priests Reporting Child Abuse

By Charlene Scott
Dodge City Daily Globe [Dodge City KS]
January 28, 2004

An attorney for the Diocese of Dodge City will testify on behalf of the Kansas Catholic Conference regarding a new House bill to be introduced Thursday that deals with priests and ministers reporting child abuse.

Thousands of Kansas Catholics are being asked to contact Kansas legislators today to protest House Bill 2575. Attorney William Trenkle, who represents the Diocese of Dodge City, and Attorney John Jurcyk, who represents the Archdiocese of Kansas City, will testify with amendments from the Catholic Conference.

Also testifying with the same amendments will be Rev. Dr. Joe Hendrixson, executive director of Kansas Ecumenical Ministries in Topeka, which represents nine different denominations.

Bills challenging the privacy of the Catholic confessional were brought to the Kansas legislature this legislative session and also last year. Recently introduced House Bill 2371 would have required that priests report information revealed in the confessional concerning child abuse or abuse of persons with disabilities.

But an outcry this week against the bill and its call for a violation of the confessional seal has doomed that bill. Now a new bill House Bill 2575 will replace the one that attacked the privacy of confession.

The Kansas Catholic Conference also is opposed to sections of this bill, however.

"Thanks to the many calls and e-mails received by members of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, House Bill 2371 will not be given a hearing," Kansas Catholic Conference Executive Director Mike Farmer said Tuesday.

"This bill would have required a priest to report to the state any information he heard in the confessional regarding child abuse or even a suspicion of child abuse," Farmer explained.

Newly introduced House Bill 2575 differs from House Bill 2371 in that it exempts a priest from reporting any information if it was received as part of a "penitential communication" as defined in current law. Otherwise the information must be reported.

Reportable information learned by a priest outside of "penitential communication" would include: suspicions of a child being subjected to physical, mental or emotional abuse or neglect or sexual abuse; suspicions of abuse, neglect or exploitation of a resident in medical facilities or adult care homes; and suspicions of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult.

"This is a much better bill," Farmer said. "But while this new bill is a great improvement over the prior bill, it still is not acceptable in its present form."

Farmer met this week with four diocesan attorneys who reviewed the bill. The Kansas Catholic Conference brings together the four bishops of the Province of Kansas, and serves as the official voice of the Catholic Church in Kansas on matters of public policy.

"We will be offering several amendments to the bill at the hearing on Thursday," Farmer disclosed. "We will oppose this bill without the additional amendments."

The Catholic Conference will seek to have deleted from the bill a paragraph stating that only ministers must report information even if the victim contacts him after reaching the age of majority and several years have elapsed since the victimization.

Another paragraph the conference wants deleted deals with investigation of only a minister's report by local law enforcement agencies. The conference also will object to the bill's addition of "a custodian of records for such minister" who also would be responsible to report the same abuses.

Farmer said his office is asking Kansas Catholics to "please contact the members of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee and ask them to not support House Bill 2575 without the amendments being offered by the Kansas Catholic Conference."

Another bill pertaining to the same issue has moved into this legislative session in the Senate from last year. Senate Bill 186 requires priests and ministers to report information concerning child abuse or abuses of persons with disabilities, but does require priests to break the seal of the confessional.

The House bill that didn't make it to a hearing due to protests Bill 2371 -- had stated: "A minister as defined in K.S.A. 60-429, and amendments thereto, should report to the proper authorities when such minister foresees or has reasonable cause to suspect the crime of child abuse or abuse of a person with developmental disabilities, whether the knowledge is obtained outside or inside the penitential communication (confession)."

The bill further stated that "The welfare and protection of a child or persons with developmental disabilities with this state supersedes the penitential privilege of K.S.A. 60-429, and amendments thereto."

The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Sue Storm of District 22 in the Overland Park area, sits on the Education Committee, which introduced the bill.

"We will testify in opposition to House Bill 2575, but if it passes with the amendments we suggest, we will not oppose it," Farmer said.

The new House bill as did the bill that did not receive a hearing states that "willful and knowing failure to make a report required by this session is a Class B misdemeanor," as is "preventing or interfering with with the intent to prevent the making of a report required by this section."

Persons wishing to contact the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee should call the legislative hotline, 1-800-432-3924, and leave a call back message for the following members of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee: Rep. Ward Loyd, chairman; Rep. Tim Owens, vice chairman; or Rep. Jim Ward, ranking minority member.

The three committee members also may be e-mailed at: Loyd@house.state.KS.US; Owens@house.state.KS.US; and Ward@house.state.KS.US.


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