January 7, 2004
Measure would require clergy to report abuses
By Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff, 1/24/2002
bill that would require clergy to report child abuse - including abuse that occurred long ago - was unanimously passed by the state Senate yesterday.
The legislation, which now will be considered by the House, holds clergy members to the same mandatory reporting law that requires doctors, social workers, and teachers to report child abuse to the Department of Social Services.
The bill would continue to protect information relayed during a confession or religious counseling, but require priests and other church officials to report allegations of abuse they hear in any other conversations not deemed privileged.
"It is not our intention to reach into the confessional," said Senator Susan Tucker, a Democrat from Andover and the bill's chief sponsor.
The legislation was long opposed by the Archdiocese of Boston, but gained momentum with the recent attention and trial of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan. Cardinal Bernard F. Law apologized for failing to remove Geoghan -- who is accused of molesting 130 children since the 1960s -- sooner from parish ministry.
Law sparked criticism by saying church officials would report any instances of future abuse, but not past allegations. In a public apology for his actions involving Geoghan, Law said he knew of no other allegations against archdiocesan priests. "We can't just say from this day forward," Tucker said. "If there are known pedophiles out there, there is a duty to report them."
Child rape can be prosecuted up to 15 years from the time the victim turns 16, or 15 years after the accusations are reported to police.
Phil Saviano, regional coordinator of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the legislation is necessary to remove protections afforded the Catholic Church.
"For generations, the Catholic Church has had the pleasure of being above the law in certain areas, and they have been given that easy pass by the legislators," Saviano said.
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Donna Morrissey, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
This story ran on page B6 of the Boston Globe on 1/24/2002.