Clergy Must Report Abuse?
Legal Mandate: Religious Leaders Group Supports It

The Associated Press
April 20, 2002

Clergy should be required by law to report any case of suspected child sexual abuse, including allegations against priests and other clergy, a coalition of Chicago area religious leaders declared Friday.

They called for a change in state law to add clergy to the list of professionals required in Illinois to notify civilian legal authorities any time they learn of possible abuse.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago was among those calling for the change.

"If teachers, social workers and others are mandated, then we believe we should be as well," said the Rev. Paul Rutgers, who is executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and the former regional executive of the Presbyterian Church of Chicago.

The Rev. Timothy Lyne, a council member and Catholic vicar, said the Roman Catholic archdiocese "would not object to that in any way," to requiring that employees of the church, including priests, be reported to legal authorities.

The archdiocese reports allegations of child sexual abuse by priests only after first reviewing them to see if they appear to have any substance, as Lyne put it, "whenever there is a credible complaint that involves a minor."

The call for change by the religious leaders council came as Cardinal Francis George left Chicago for a speaking date in St. Louis en route to extraordinary meetings in Rome on Tuesday and Wednesday of American cardinals and Vatican officials to discuss the child sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the American Catholic church.

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the U.S. bishops, said the cardinals have two main issues in mind: a single policy for sex-offending priests judged by psychologists to have been rehabilitated, and a uniform policy on reporting sexual offenses, which differs from state to state in the United States.

Illinois law requires child care workers, health care professionals, educators, social workers and law enforcement — but not clergy — to report to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services "immediately" if they have "reasonable cause to believe" a child "may" have been abused.

Failing to report such abuse is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine, though law enforcement officials knew of no one who had been charged under the law.

At least a dozen other states include clergy as a so-called "mandated reporter" of child abuse, according to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, based in Washington, D.C. Another 16 states require any professional who works with children to do so.

While some states make exceptions for clergy who learn of abuse during a confession, a handful — North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas and New Hampshire — say child abuse reported in confessions must still be reported.

The Chicago council and the Catholic church here do not support requiring clergy to go to the authorities if a parishioner told during confession of abuse.

How various faith traditions determine whether a charge is credible varies. Typically, most have an internal board, with or without lay members, that investigates accusations by interviewing the victim and the accused priest to determine its credibility, then notifies authorities.

"You get all kinds of crazy calls," Lyne said. "Somebody has to decide whether it looks like it's credible. It's not like a fire alarm that, as soon as somebody presses a button, you run to police."

But that process does not lead to complaints being turned over "immediately," as the law requires, said Mark Cavins, chief of the sex crimes division of the Cook County state's attorney's office.

Talking about the Catholic archdiocese's Professional Fitness Review Board, Cavins said, "The fitness review panel can take weeks or months to come to the conclusion that something is credible. As much as I applaud the archdiocese for the review panel, that is a purely voluntary thing."

Vetting abuse allegations through the board also allows church officials to make decisions better left to experts at investigating sex abuse, police or state's attorney's investigators who are trained to do interviews, and medical personnel who are trained to do special, and timely, medical exams, Cavins said.

"The archdiocese, or even a school principal, isn't supposed to investigate allegations to determine whether it's credible," he said. "Law enforcement is supposed to do that."

Cavins said he thinks that the religious leaders' support could get the law changed. A similar effort in the early 1990s failed, when religious leaders opposed it.

"We would support that concept," Cindy Huebner, a spokeswoman for state Senate Minority Leader Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said of requiring reporting of abuse by clergy members.


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