South San Francisco, CA February 22, 2019 Submitted by
SACRAMENTO – State Senator Jerry Hill introduced legislation today to require clergy of all faiths to report suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement without regard to the circumstances under which the clergy member learns of the suspected crime.
Although current law includes clergy members in the list of 46 professionals – which also includes physicians, teachers, peace officers, therapists and social workers – who are mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement, the law also exempts clergy from such reporting if they gain their knowledge or suspicion of the crimes during “a penitential communication.”
Senate Bill 360 would remove that exemption.
“SB 360 is about the safety and protection of children,” said Senator Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. “Individuals who harm children or are suspected of harming children must be reported so a timely investigation by law enforcement can occur. The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes – with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk.”
Outcry from survivors of childhood sex abuse has led to growing revelations of the extent of the crisis in faith communities where clergy have been accused of sexually abusing children or of perpetuating the problem by covering up for alleged sex abusers who are clergy themselves or lay members of the faith.
“This is a public safety issue for all religions, businesses and governments, and it needs to end so we can protect our children,” said a California man who described being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, was allegedly abused by two members of his church as a child, and was devastated when elders did not pursue the matter. Instead, he was shunned for speaking out. Now, he is a survivor advocate for Stop Child Abuse – Advocates for Reform and Safety, better known as SCAARS.
Also speaking in support of the legislation, Ethan Gregory Dodge, technical director and a co-founder of the Truth and Transparency Foundation, said: “The TTF unequivocally supports California SB 360. It both protects survivors of abuse and holds religious institutions accountable while respecting the constitutional right to religious freedom. Religious repentance should always include restitution, and in all criminal situations, like that of abuse, restitution can only be made when justice is served by the laws of the land.”
“The Child-Friendly Faith Project fully supports Senator Hill’s bill that requires clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, without exception,” said the Rev. Dr. Jaime Romo, president of the Child-Friendly Faith Project. “For too long, religious authorities have been protected from reporting these cases, leaving children vulnerable and unsafe. Like teachers, physicians and other mandatory reporters, members of the clergy often spend much time with families, and so they are in an ideal position to notice or learn if a child is being, or has been, harmed.”
Judy Klapperich-Larson, vice president of Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests’ Board of Directors, expressed strong support of the legislation on behalf of SNAP, which was founded 31 years ago and now has supporters throughout the world.
“Children cannot make sense of the trauma they are suffering,” said Ms. Klapperich-Larson. “They have been told to go to a trusted adult when something bad has been done to them. We grownups must be the voices of the traumatized children every time a child confides in us, no exceptions. If a child believes no one will help them, they hold the secret and shame inside and question their perception of reality. Those children grow up to be broken adults, coping however they can with what was done to them, distrusting people in authority, self-medicating, acting out against others. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse a child. Don’t let our abused children feel alone and helpless in their trauma filled worlds.”
The call for transparency and greater accountability is gaining momentum. A report by a Pennsylvania grand jury in August 2018 on sexual abuse by Catholic priests spurred investigations by attorneys general in more than a dozen states. California Attorney General Javier Becerra announced in November that his office would be collecting reports from state residents about incidents of clergy sex abuse, although the office has not confirmed or denied whether it is pursuing an investigation. Several Catholic dioceses in California have publicly released the names of priests who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children; the most recent was the Diocese of Oakland, which issued its list on Monday.
At the Vatican, clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults will be the subject this week of a summit called by Pope Francis for presidents of Catholic bishops’ conferences worldwide. The pope defrocked former American cardinal and archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick on Saturday, after the church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and seminarians over a period spanning decades.
The bill will be available online within 24 hours at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/
Fact Sheet for SB 360: