Statement regarding mandated reporting of sexual abuse by clergy

Published on May 29th, 2012

Contrary to recent published reports, the New York State Catholic Conference has never opposed bills adding clergy to the list of mandated reporters for child sexual abuse. Since the bills were originally introduced in the New York State Legislature in 2002, we have consistently and publicly supported the concept. At the request of the sponsors of competing bills in the two houses, we have never taken a position on one bill over the other. According to The New York Times, March 26, 2002:

“At this time, we don’t anticipate commenting on the specifics of any mandatory reporting legislation,” said Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference. “In our conversations with the sponsors of both houses, we’ve urged them to act in the best interest of our children, the state’s children.”

As the Poughkeepsie Journal reported on June 30, 2005:

The New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops in the state, said it has not taken a position on either of the bills, but does favor requiring clergy to report suspected abuse. Supporting one bill or the other would hinder the process, more than help it, said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the group.

“We do support the concept and we have urged the sponsors to reconcile the two bills and reach an agreement” Poust said.

The two sides were close to a deal in 2002, but it collapsed after opposition from Planned Parenthood, which objected to the expanded reporting requirements in one of the bills on its employees. As the same Poughkeepsie Journal article stated:

Several organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Social Workers, oppose Saland’s bill.

Today, a decade later, the Catholic Conference continues to support the concept of mandatory reporting for clergy. Below are principles we believe must be present for a fair and effective bill:

  • The reporting requirements must protect the sanctity of the confessional. Catholic teaching holds that the confidentiality afforded to Catholics in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is inviolable. A priest who violates the seal of the Confessional is automatically excommunicated under Canon Law.
  • Any reporting requirements, including retroactive reporting of old cases, must be equally applied to all mandated reporters and not, as some past bills would have done, to clergy alone.
  • There should be no “opt out” provision for abortion clinic employees and other health care providers who in the course of their duties come into contact with minors who they know or suspect have been sexually abused by adults.

We continue to urge the two sides to work with the Governor and to pass a measure that protects more children by expanding the mandated reporter law.

The Catholic Conference represents New York State’s Bishops in matters of public policy.