Senate unanimously supports clergy reporting rule

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(Host) Members of the clergy would be included in the list of professionals who must report child abuse under legislation approved by the Vermont Senate. Tuesday’s vote in the Senate was unanimous.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Under current law, there are a number of professions, such as teachers, day care workers and health care professionals, who must report suspicions of child abuse if the individual has “reasonable cause to believe that the incident took place.” This bill adds members of the clergy to the mandatory reporting list.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Jim Leddy said allegations of child sexual abuse involving several Catholic priests caused the Legislature to consider this bill:

(Leddy) “We must in our society and in our law have zero tolerance for those who abuse our children; that we must especially look to our communities and to our spiritual leaders to assist all of us in insuring that there’s zero tolerance for any abuse of our children; that those who are charged with the spiritual values of our lives not only be teachers of those values but they do nothing to harm our children either directly or by omission.”

(Kinzel) The bill does include an exemption for information gathered by members of the clergy in a confessional setting. The exemption was a top priority for Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell. Leddy says he feels the bill can still be very effective with the exemption:

(Leddy) “This was our way we believe to avoid what I think we were finding was going to be a conflict of perhaps between church and state.”

(Kinzel) Leddy says the most important part of the bill is a provision that will require a uniform statewide education program for all people who are mandatory reporters:

(Leddy) “We can change laws, we can build in mandations, but that doesn’t necessarily insure compliance, number one, nor does it absolutely deal with the issue of education and training on such an important matter.”

(Kinzel) The House is working on a companion bill that may include some provisions that are not part of the Senate legislation. This proposal could be up for debate on the House floor in the next week.

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

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