Senate committee passes clergy reporting bill

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(Host) The Senate Health and Welfare committee has given its unanimous approval to legislation that adds members of the clergy to the list of mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse. The bill does exempt information gathered a confession from the reporting provisions of the law.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation is the result of a controversy concerning allegations of child sexual abuse involving a number of Catholic priests in Vermont. Under current law, individuals in a number professions – including teachers, health care professionals, and day care workers – are required to report suspicions of child abuse to the state if the individual has “reasonable cause to believe” that the incident took place. This legislation adds members of the clergy to the mandatory reporting list.

Committee Chair Jim Leddy (D-Chittenden County) says his panel decided to exempt information gathered in a confession because committee members thought the law could be very effective without including a provision that was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church:

(Leddy) “It was going to create a collusion at some point that is unnecessary. We really had testimony from clergy, from two bishops and others that said, don’t put us in the position of having to choose which law we violate – the state’s or our church’s. And we don’t believe, in fact, that that conflict needs to be addressed in this law. We believe that this will do what we want it to do, which is to require clergy to report incidents of child abuse and to become a part of the mandating reporting law.”

(Kinzel) Leddy says another critical part of the bill calls on the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services to develop a uniform statewide training program for all mandatory reporting groups.

(Leddy) “That will both in a consistent way provide consistent training around child abuse and reporting of it, and also insure that all those who are required to report receive this training. And we think that may well be one of the more important aspects of the bill.”

(Kinzel) The legislation could be on the Senate floor for debate as early as next week.

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

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