A Delaware bill mandating Catholic priests to report confessions of abuse or neglect to the police is stirring heated debate throughout our neighboring state. Supporters of the bill argue the law is necessary to protect children from abusers, particularly from priests who confess sins of abuse and are promptly absolved by their own. Detractors maintain that confession is a holy sacrament that should remain inviolate, as it is a confidential rite fundamental to a penitent's relationship with God.
In Pennsylvania, the matter is settled–at least for now. Pennsylvania law states that priests and other clergy are exempt from reporting confessions of child abuse or neglect to legal authorities when the such confession was made under the umbrella of confidential pastoral communications. Outside of these circumstances, members of the clergy are mandated reporters. If they suspect a child is being abused because of evidence they have observed, they must report their concerns to the appropriate Pennsylvania legal authorities.
The Clergy as Mandated Reporters
A mandatory reporter is a person who is obligated by Pennsylvania law to make a report to ChildLine when they have reasonable cause to believe a child is being abused or neglected. Clergy and spiritual leaders, along with school employees, health care providers, attorneys, law enforcement officials, and others, are all mandatory reporters. The law requires them to report the suspected abuse immediately and fully identify themselves. They could face misdemeanor charges if they fail to report their suspicions promptly. Intentionally refusing to report their suspicions could result in a felony charge.
Clergy and attorneys are the sole mandatory reporters who have an exception carved into their charge. These groups are discharged from reporting abuse or neglect when the information is obtained through confidential communication. In other words, if a person confesses to committing child abuse to their priest or spiritual leader in a confessional booth or a confidential counseling relationship, the law does not require the religious leader to report that information. Yet, if the cleric witnesses a person abusing a child or acting in a manner that suggests the child is being abused, they have a legal obligation to report their observations.
Many religious organizations have their own policies dictating how a cleric or spiritual leader should handle a confession of abuse. For example, in response to the extensive sexual abuse scandal, the Catholic Church now requires a priest who suspects abuse of a child to report it to their religious superiors. This requirement is a significant change in the Church's policies; however, it does not demand that a priest break his confessional seal.
An Experienced Criminal Attorney Can Help Fight Child Abuse Accusations
If you or someone you love has been accused of child abuse or face a ChildLine investigation, immediately contact an experienced criminal attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped thousands of individuals navigate criminal charges. He fights hard to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today for a consultation, or schedule one online.