Clergy would become full mandated reporters of sexual assault, if bill passes

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A new California bill wants everyone to be able to report child sexual abuse. Right now, clergy in the state don’t have to report it if they hear about it in confession, or other private communications. Senate Bill 360 would erase that exemption, if passed.

Clergy are already mandated reporters of crimes like sexual assault, like therapists, doctors and other professions. However, clergy is the only profession to have any kind of protection under state law.

The shelter provided by Fresno organization Breaking the Chains has become a haven for anyone who’s been sexually abused. It’s why one of its founders and CEO, Debra Rush, is standing behind SB 360.

Rush feels it would make sure no case of child sexual abuse goes unheard.

“There is a greater good at work here, above and beyond the sacrament of confession,” Rush said. “It goes into protecting our children, protecting our communities.”

The bill, introduced Wednesday, targets information learned from penitential communication, which is defined under state law as communication made in confidence to a clergy member that is authorized or accustomed to that kind of communication.

The bill comes as the Diocese of Fresno — and others worldwide — work to release names of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

When we called for comment, we were told Bishop Armando Ochoa attached his name to a statement issued by the California Catholic Conference of Bishops — which he is a part of.

Here it is in full:

“Clergy are already mandatory reporters. We support that and would do nothing to change it. Inserting government into the Confessional does nothing to protect children and everything to erode the fundamental constitutional rights and liberties we enjoy as Americans. It’s also why courts here and around the world respect the special nature of spiritual counseling.”

Tim Neufeld, a biblical and religious studies professor at Fresno Pacific University, said conversations on this bill will become a debate of what deserves to be privileged information.

“There’s a whole other level, that’s the moral level, which a pastor should be saying, ‘What should I do in this situation that is the best for the victim,'” Neufeld said.

You can see SB 360 in full by clicking here.

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