Dozens of states still shield religious leaders and their members.
Two years ago a spate of legislative initiatives attempted to close the loophole that allows licensed clergy to hear confessions from members of their congregation about sexual abuse, and not report it to local authorities.
For example, in Utah HB90 would require religious leaders to report any sexual misconduct with minors to state authorities. Refusal to do so would be considered a crime.
But several of the state’s largest denominations were dead set against the proposed law. They claimed that such a law infringed on religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. From dozens of pulpits across the state priests and religious leaders inveighed against the bill, and it was never passed.
This so-called ‘clergy loophole’ is still viable in over thirty states. The news media reported this week that over a hundred bills have been introduced in state legislatures during the past years to end this long standing clergy-penitent immunity. None of those bills passed.
What constitutes child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse can be physical or nonphysical.
Touching children includes playing sexual games, caressing them inappropriately, forcing them to touch another person’s genitalia, or placing items or body parts in their mouths, anuses, or vulvae.
Non-touching abuse includes showing a child pornography, exposing a person’s genitalia, trafficking or prostitution, taking pictures of them in sexual poses, encouraging them to witness or hear sexual acts in person or on camera, and/or watching them undress or use the restroom.
The loophole is still being defended in 2022
A Catholic cardinal who would eventually be defrocked for sexually abusing children and adult seminarians spearheaded an effective campaign this year in Maryland that resulted in the defeat of a plan that would have closed a loophole involving clergy and penitents. This effort was successful.
And in another instance, a jury in Montana awarded a woman who had been mistreated by a Jehovah’s Witness member in the middle of the 2000s a total of $35 million in damages because the church had failed to disclose the abuse that the lady had suffered. But earlier this year, the state’s clergy-penitent privilege was cited as the basis for the state Supreme Court’s decision in 2020 to overturn the sentence and hold that church leaders were under no responsibility to report the incident.
On the other hand, many who maintain the clergy privilege argue that eliminating it will not make children any safer.
Some people go as far as to argue that allowing abusers to confidentially reveal their actions to clergy members encourages them to admit their wrongdoing and frequently results in the abuse being stopped.
But when abuse is reported directly to police and child welfare authorities, the loophole becomes irrelevant. Then authorities have full authority and jurisdiction to move on any complaints received to investigate, charge, and prosecute, as the situation demands.
If you or a loved one have suffered from child sexual abuse of any kind, immediately seek redress by using an experienced law firm, like Briet Biniazan Trial Lawyers, to bring the malefactors to justice.