Some Clergy More Equal Than Others?

March 20, 2009

I know, it’s hard to read the following story and not get mad about the central image of a pastor spanking a 12-year-old girl with a piece of wooden crown molding, with the permission of her parents, because these adults in her life doubted her claims that she had been sexually molested.

Before I get to my journalistic question about this Chicago Tribune report (Does the “special to” byline mean this is a freelance story?), let’s get the context.

A former Elgin pastor found guilty Wednesday of spanking a girl with a piece of wood in his office admitted he wasn’t prepared for the task of counseling a child who claimed to have been sexually abused.

“The situation was over my head,” said Rev. Daryl Bujak, who avoided jail time when he was sentenced to 12 months of supervision. “I didn’t have the ability to deal with the situation I confronted.”

Bujak was found guilty of two counts of battery for spanking the 12-year-old during counseling sessions in 2005 at First Missionary Baptist Church in Elgin. He was accused of beating the girl with a piece of crown molding, in part because he did not believe her allegations.

Now, here comes the first of two points that make me wonder if something is missing or even inaccurate in this story.

Bujak was found not guilty of violating a state law that requires clergy members to report allegations of sexual abuse. …

In addition to sentencing Bujak for battery, a misdemeanor, the judge ordered him to perform 80 hours of community service and pay a $350 fine. Bujak is to have no contact with the girl.

A bright red flag went up for me, in part because of my church-state studies background.

Does the Illinois law really require clergy to violate the privacy of personal confessions? Does the law see any difference between privileged communications in a Protestant setting, as opposed to those in a Catholic setting? There are, after all, quite a few Catholic parishes in the state of Illinois and I would imagine that the law would address that question.

So far, I have not been able to find a clear answer. It appears that the law tries to have it both ways, requiring clergy to report child abuse, but also recognizing clergy penitent privilege. Here is an old Religion Link report on that issue and here is a Google search that contains a few other links that suggest the same thing.

The other strange point is this:

Bujak’s attorney, Ross Bartolotta, argued that the parents had given his client permission to do corporal punishment as part of the counseling. But the judge rejected Bartolotta’s assertion that a clergyman had a right to spank with parental permission.

So the parents could not grant permission to punish their child? That’s interesting, too. It seems that the parents changed their mind and then struck back at the pastor, who thought he was acting in line with their wishes. If I was a clergyperson in the state of Illinois, that would raise a flag for me, too.

Now this is clearly a tragic case on a host of levels and the point of this post is not to defend the actions of the parents and/or their pastor.

My point is that I have doubts about the accuracy of the story — especially on the crucial point of church-state law that is involved. Might a correction be needed? Or does Illinois law truly discriminate against Protestant clergy and their privileged communications, as opposed to Catholic clergy?

Just asking.


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