Senate bill would require clergy reporting of child abuse

Catholic Education Resource Center

Fr. Bede Price, OSB, in a confessional at the Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine

By Guy Page

A bill introduced into the Vermont Senate last week would, in practice, break the sacred seal of the church confessional in cases of child abuse.

S16, sponsored by Judiciary Chair Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), would “repeal the four-pronged exception that permits clergy to not report child abuse and neglect when it is received in confidence while acting as a spiritual advisor.”

state of Vermont

State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said one difference between cannabis and sports betting was top-of-mind for him as he considered legalizing the latter in the upcoming legislative session.

At present, virtually all other professions dealing with children must report to authorities incidents of child abuse communicated to them. However, Vermont state law 33 V.S.A. § 4913 provides a clergy exception for some types of communications. These exceptions would be removed under S16.

The bill was committed to Sears’ committee, Senate Judiciary. It is considered extremely likely to receive a committee hearing, which would include testimony from affected parties.

In press statements, Sears has said he realizes it’s a complex issue. But Sears — himself a former social worker with children – also told reporters, “My gut reaction is that nobody should get a free pass.”

Clergy reporting of child abuse is a matter for state law. Most states require clergy reporting in some, but not all, instances. For a state-by-state list see www.childwelfare.gov.

According to the Catholic Education Resource Center, the seal of the confessional cannot be violated for any reason. For a priest to do so is a crime against church law.

The sacramental seal is inviolable. Quoting Canon 983.1 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism states, “…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (No. 2490). A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity.

Among most Protestant clergy, no such absolute, inviolable seal exists, although confidentiality is generally considered a non-negotiable requirement between spiritually counselor and the counseled.

Supporters of repealing the clergy exemption say (like Sears) it promotes fairness among all professionals working with children. They also say it would help uncover hidden child abuse, both outside and inside religious instititutions. As the saying goes, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

According to a Washington Examiner report, opponents of mandatory clergy reporting say it might:

  • Discourage victims from seeking counseling
  • Violate the sacredness and privacy of confession
  • Put more people into potential legal jeopardy, both those accused of abuse and those who fail to report their suspicions.
  • Increase likelihood of reporting abuses, such as “investigations based on hunches or ambiguous evidence which can harm the innocent, traumatize families, result in CPS [child protective services] raids, and stimulate false allegations” (Walter Olson, Cato Institute).

Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.

Images courtesy of Catholic Education Resource Center and state of Vermont
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5 thoughts on “Senate bill would require clergy reporting of child abuse

  1. Demo/Progs in the legislature love to wag their long, bony fingers of indignation at anyone they disagree on policy with and use accusations of “racism, dogwhistle, anti-semite, homophobe, transphobe, intolerant, bigot” etc but have no shame coming out with a blatant anti-Catholic proposal like this while holding their heads high. If you need another way to define and describe a Vermont liberal, “the inability to personally experience shame for their actions” should be added to the list with:
    -someone who feels the US and Vermont Constitutions are impediments to social progress”…

  2. “My gut reaction is that nobody should get a free pass.”
    Sorry Dick, The Vermont Constitution says different in Chapter 1 Article 3. Read it.
    sears was at one time a serious centrist senator, providing some balance to the legislature.
    No longer, he has introduced, sponsored and voted for some of the most ridiculous socialist and totalitarian demands of his fellow legislators. sears, mazza, brock and scott- when he was a senator offered balance to the senate chamber. If this is sears idea of balance, it’s time to replace him. Trying to out-do bray, baruth, mccormick and hinsdale at the crazy game doesn’t work for sears, Vermont or it’s constitution. What sears proposes is expressly prohibited in Ch.1 Art.3- much in the same way that firearms regulation is prohibited in Ch.1 Art.16. Spending millions of dollars to litigate foolish laws helps only the lawyer- it does nothing for the general welfare of the state….and that’s covered in Ch.2.

  3. What ever you do don’t tax porn!!!! Don’t do that!

    God sees everyone’s sins, so there is no hiding, preacher or not. It’s a racket to begin with.

    What happened to minor attracted persons? lol…..the true goal is tear down any faith, bankrupt and pollute all churches. Meanwhile nobody wants to tax porn that is promoting interfamilial sex….to at least perhaps curb the appetite…there is much to do in our state, little or nothing has to do with the Catholic church, but for they have one of the best high schools that costs half as much as every other vermont school and does a better job. Parents agree.

    Sunlight….

    Let it shine of Vermont government 1st!

    Balint…. sold out to the highest bidder, with corrupt money for cheap. It only costs a million dollars to buy a Vermont congresswoman.

    We’re all in the same boar, some just don’t know where to look for answers. Have mercy on us. TGBTG

  4. Sounds good on paper? I guess I’d agree….but eventually those that do pedophile things just won’s
    say anything anymore, to any priests? Besides, what good is it…when for decades Catholic priests all over the world were themselves pedophiles, abusing boys……Did they ever turn themselves in? It happened in Vermont!. The church just buried it and transferred bad priests to other places….until it became too overwhelming to ignore.

  5. Let the ratting begin

    Next will be, all confessions to a priest have to be recorded and handed to the police.

    In fact, the police could be listening, in real time, and send squad car to make an arrest.

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