Bill Would Require Church Supervisors to Report Clergy Sex Abuse
By Sarah Linn
January 29, 2004
Church supervisors would be required to report clergy who sexually abuse children under a Senate bill that supporters said Wednesday would prevent abusers from simply moving to another congregation.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, would oblige bishops, senior pastors and other clergy members in supervisory positions to report suspected child abuse to authorities.
They're excluded from such obligation under a 1975 law that requires professionals such as nurses, psychologists, school counselors and probation officers to report suspected abuse or face a gross misdemeanor charge.
"Almost all clergy would never participate in this behavior, would not condone it ... but it happens," Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, told the Senate Children and Family Services and Corrections Committee.
Criticism of the bill came from church officials worried about government interference, and from advocates for the abused concerned that abusive priests and pastors could still slip through the cracks.
"There is a culture of secrecy that sexual predators and their sponsoring institutions will do anything to maintain," said John Schuster, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The bill, SB 6446, would require clergy members to report offending members under their supervision as soon as they become aware of an allegation of child abuse or neglect.
That rule would not apply if the allegation was discovered solely through a confession or pastoral counseling session.
Lobbyists for Catholic and Protestant church associations praised the bill, saying it would ensure that abusive priests, rabbis and other church leaders are caught and tried.
Both the Seattle Archdiocese and the Spokane Diocese already have policies requiring clergy to report sexual abuse, said Donna Christensen, representing the Washington State Catholic Conference.
But critics, including Suzanne Brown McBride of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said the bill too narrowly defines which clergy members must report sex abuse.
"It does not mean that the law will be enforced or that clergy will be punished," said Schuster, of Port Orchard.
Joseph Fuiten, senior pastor at Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell, said the bill crosses the line between church and state.
"When the state regulates my behavior as a minister, it begins to regulate the church," said Fuiten, who heads the Olympia-based Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government.
Statewide, at least 64 Roman Catholic priests have been accused of molesting at least 177 victims, with some cases going back more than 50 years. Churches in Seattle, Spokane, Yakima and elsewhere have spent at least $14.3 million dealing with sex abuse cases in recent years.
As of Jan. 22, there were still some two dozen active lawsuits in Washington.
On the Net:
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: www.snapnetwork.org
Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs: www.wcsap.org
Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government: www.werg.org
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