(Host) The head of Vermont’s Catholic Church told lawmakers Tuesday that the diocese supports a law requiring priests to report allegations of child abuse. But Bishop Kenneth Angell said he had reservations about certain parts of the bill.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Zind) Vermont law requires a number of professions to immediately report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Until now, members of the clergy have been exempt. After last year’s nationwide scandal involving the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the Legislature is moving to add clergy to the list of those required to report allegations.
Bishop Angell told the House Judiciary Committee that he supports adding priests to the list of mandatory reporters. But Angell says the confessional should be exempt. He’s concerned about one section of the proposed legislation that could lead a priest to violate the confidentiality of the confessional.
(Angell) “The penalty for any such violation of the sacramental seal of confession is excommunication. And my friends, I promise you right now, I would go to jail before I would be able to violate the sanctity of the confessional, and so would every priest.”
(Zind) Committee members didn’t challenge Angell’s argument. In Vermont, allegations of past sexual abuse surfaced last year against six active priests. They were suspended by the Burlington Diocese. Of the six, one has been reinstated, two have stepped down and two others are facing lawsuits filed by their alleged victims.
Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Peg Flory (R-Pittsford) says another section of the proposed bill has also drawn some fire.
(Flory) “One other piece that has had some discussion that surprised me is there’s language in it that adds, as a mandatory reporter, a person who is entrusted with the care of a child. Surprisingly some of the victims groups didn’t want that.”
(Zind) Flory says there’s concern that broadening the mandatory reporting laws too much will make it unmanageable and unenforceable. She says the committee is also grappling with the question of whether or not a mandatory reporter should come under the law even when they’re not on the job.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.