Assembly Passes Bill Requiring
Clergy to Report Sex Abuse

GMtoday [Madison WI]
March 12, 2004

MADISON - Wisconsin clergy would be required to tell authorities if they suspect a child has been sexually abused, under legislation the Assembly approved in the wake of the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal of recent years.

The Assembly voted 99-0 Thursday to approve the bill that features stronger reporting requirements for the clergy than were passed by the Senate.

The amended version must be approved by the Senate before the bill can be sent to Gov. Jim Doyle, who has promised to sign whatever bill lawmakers approve. The Senate was scheduled to take up the matter Friday.

"This is a big first step in protecting our children and our families," said Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, who helped craft the measure.

The legislation would also extend the statute of limitations for victims filing lawsuits against the clergy and churches.

But victims' groups have complained those provisions are inadequate. They had lobbied for a one-year window in which a victim of abuse could pursue a lawsuit, regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. Legislative attorneys advised lawmakers the provision would be unconstitutional.

A victims' group brought Heather Smith, of Waterloo, Iowa, to the Capitol Thursday as an example of why the one-year window needs to be added to the bill.

Smith, 34, said she was molested repeatedly by a Port Washington priest when she was 8 years old.

Smith, who was attending school in Milwaukee at the time, said she just notified the Milwaukee archdiocese this year of her case.

"Recovering from sexual abuse does not happen within a certain amount of time," she said. "Without this window, he gets away with a crime."

Current law requires most health care providers, social workers, teachers and child care workers to report suspected child abuse by anyone.

The Assembly version of the bill would add clergy to that list. The Senate version only required clergy to report fellow members they suspect had sexually abused children.

The Senate has to concur in the bill before adjourning the two-year session or else the legislation will have to wait until next year to take it up again.

The state Senate recessed early Friday after approving a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and civil unions, deciding to come back later in the morning,

The Assembly, meanwhile, adjourned its regular session early Friday and scheduled an extraordinary session for Tuesday to take up additional bills.

John Huebscher, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, said the church supports the stricter reporting requirement because it "adds protect for children, which all of us want."

A national report this year showed 4,392 members of the Catholic clergy were accused of abuse from 1950-2002. The accusations were made by 10,667 individuals, most of them under the age of 15.

Wisconsin's five dioceses reported more than 100 Catholic clergy members in the state have had proven claims they sexually abused children since 1950.

"This bill goes beyond just the Catholic Church," said Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin. "But that has been what's lit a fire to bring this issue to the forefront."


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