Both the Massachusetts House and Senate have passed bills that would require clergy members to report suspicions of child abuse, including sexual abuse, to civil authorities. Massachusetts clergy are currently not obligated to report evidence of abuse to the Department of Social Services. The House version of the bill, passed yesterday, would still exempt information gathered during confession from being reported or any other information gathered during “privileged” conversations. The Senate will now consider amendments made to the legislation by the House before sending it to Governor Jane Swift (R) who is expected to sign the legislation into law.
The bill gained wide support among Massachusetts legislators after the Boston Archdiocese sex abuse scandal erupted earlier this year. Cardinal Bernard Law, who knew of numerous allegations of sexually abuse by priests, publicly apologized for allowing suspected pedophiles to remain in their posts as priests. Law has now authorized the release of the names of more than 80 priests suspected of pedophilia to prosecutors. Only one has challenged Law, George Spagnolia. He has called Law’s new policy of asking priests accused of sexually abusing minors to step down from their posts, “unjust and inherently evil.”