Tough Abuse Reporting Standards Necessary

The Herald News
May 14, 2002

We endorse the proposed amendment to the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act, which requires clergy members and ministers to immediately report suspected abuse to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

This legislation is long overdue. And it is much better than the old law.

It's about time clergy were held to the same rules that apply to teachers, doctors and other professionals when it comes to the reporting of allegations of child abuse.

We thank the Illinois Legislature for taking such quick action in this case. The state senate has already unanimously approved this needed legislation 56-0.

The amendment extends the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse to 10 years beyond the victim's 18th birthday. This is much more reasonable than the current law which says the victims must report it by the time they turn 21.

Critics of the legislation say the changes don't go far enough. The bill would exempt the clergy from reporting anything learned during a "spiritual advising," such as confessions in a Catholic church.

Although we would prefer this exception not exist, we understand why it must to maintain the privilege of confidentiality in matters of confession.

Perhaps the "spiritual advising" wording is too broad and needs to be better defined. Would this exception include parents talking to a church bishop or ranking church official about how their child has been abused by a minister or priest?

If so, this is exactly the kind of scenario that needs to be avoided.

Of course, parents should report such child abuse to police first. But when parents go to their church officials first does this become a "spiritual advising?"

This situation could be where a report then gets covered up by a loophole in the new law.

We do not have the answer for the dilemma between needed confidentiality in religious confession and unneeded confidentiality that allows the matter to go unreported.

We believe this new legislation is the right first step. It's better than the old law. But more discussion is needed to eliminate this loophole. -- The Herald News


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