Madison: Senate Sends Clergy Abuse Bill to Governor

Associated Press, carried in St. Paul Pioneer Press [St. Paul MN]
Downloaded March 13, 2004

Wisconsin clergy would be added to the list of occupations who must report their suspicions that a child has been sexually abused under legislation the Senate approved Friday.

The Senate, on a voice vote, concurred with changes the Assembly made to the bill late Thursday. Before the changes, the legislation only would have required clergy to report abuse by fellow clergy members.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jim Doyle, who has said he will sign whatever bill lawmakers send to him.

"The stronger the bill that comes to my desk, the happier I will be to sign it," Doyle, a practicing Catholic, said earlier this week.

The legislation addresses a number of issues arising out of the Catholic abuse scandal, including an extension of the statute of limitations for victims filing lawsuits against the clergy and churches.

But victims' groups have complained that those provisions are inadequate. They 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.

Sen. Alberta Darling said she wished lawmakers could give victims more leeway in filing lawsuits but were limited by the constitution. Still, she urged churches across Wisconsin to reach out to victims who have exceeded the statute of limitations to compensate them in the appropriate way, even if that includes financially.

"It's a deep wound and you can't just have those wounds out there open," Darling said.

Current law requires most health care providers, social workers, teachers and child care workers to report suspected child abuse by anyone. The bill adds clergy to that list.

The bill was approved amid revelations that 4,392 members of the Catholic clergy nationwide were accused of abuse from 1950-2002. The accusations were made by 10,667 individuals, most of them under the age of 15 at the time of the abuse.

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

John Huebscher, Wisconsin Catholic Conference executive director, praised the legislation, calling it a step in the church's efforts to restore trust in how it addresses clergy misconduct.

"This is a good day for the protection of children," he said. "It is also a day of humility and renewed resolve for the Catholic Church of Wisconsin."


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