Bill would make clergy mandated reporters

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(Host) House Judiciary Chairwoman Peg Flory is set to introduce legislation at the Statehouse that would require members of the clergy to report cases of suspected child abuse.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Flory has spent several months drafting this bill which adds members of the clergy to the list of groups that must report all suspicions of child abuse to the state. The mandatory reporting list now includes health care workers, teachers, social workers, camp counselors and police officers. The law is based on the belief that individuals who uncover suspicions of child abuse should not determine the validity of these allegations but should instead report these cases to the state.

The issue of including clergy as part of the mandatory reporting law emerged last year when allegations of sexual abuse were made against six Catholic priests. The Church initially reviewed the cases to determine their authenticity but then turned the information over to the state when Attorney General Bill Sorrell requested it. Flory says it’s time to change the law:

(Flory) “So what we’re doing is, we’re looking at what the other state laws are and using them as a guide. And in most other states, clergy are mandatory reporters and in most other states there is a confession exception.”

(Kinzel) Flory acknowledges that exempting information gathered in a confession will be the most controversial part of the bill:

(Flory) “It was interesting to find out that the Catholic religion is not the only one that has a seal of confession. When we met with the various clergy and it was explained what a fundamental part of the Catholic religion confession was, some of the other clergy from other religions found correlation in their own. Some didn’t, some did.”

(Kinzel) Flory says her bill is being supported by the Vermont Catholic Church and the Attorney General’s office.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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