Wallace Proposes Clergy Required to Report Abuse

Wallace says her bill would address clergy priviliege

Tom Puckett
March 15, 2019 - 2:28 pm

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) Assemblywoman Monica Wallace is introducing a bill requiring members of the clergy to report child abuse. Her bill, the CARE Act, comes weeks after the state passed the child victims act.

“The Child Victims Act was a historic first step in bringing abusers to justice and allowing survivors to obtain proper redress, but it was only the first step,” said Assemblymember Wallace. “While the Child Victims Act was necessary to right the wrongs of the past, the CARE Act will close loopholes in state law that have allowed for the proliferation and cover up of child abuse and, in turn, prevent future occurrences of abuse.”

"My review of over 700 judicial clergy privilege decisions highlights the need for the CARE Act,” said Christine Bartholomew of UB Law School. “In some cases, clergy have wanted to report abuse but couldn't without running afoul of privilege. Other times, clergy had to circumnavigate the privilege, and in doing so, weakened it. Still other times--most frequently when the abuser was one of their own--clergy have wrongly asserted the privilege, at a cost to victim's justice. The CARE Act overcomes these obstacles and ensures clergy protect the children in their flock."    

New York’s recently enacted Child Victims Act allows child victims of sexual abuse, who were previously time-barred by the statute of limitations, the opportunity to file lawsuits concerning their abuse up to age 55.  While Wallace supported the measure and believes it was a critical first step in ensuring prior victims of child sexual abuse may seek justice, she also believes it is imperative that the state close the loopholes in the law that permitted such abuse to exist undetected for decades.  As such, Wallace wrote the CARE Act to clarify that clergy members from every religion also have an obligation to protect children from abuse and maltreatment.

Under current state law, clergy members are not included in the otherwise extensive list of professionals required to report suspected cases of child abuse. Moreover, clergy are prohibited from disclosing any communications made to them relating to child sexual abuse or maltreatment when such communications are made confidentially in the scope of their professional character as a spiritual adviser.

She says the inherent potential for conflict between mandatory reporting requirements and privilege would be addressed under her bill. She says creating a bright line-rule for mandatory reporting takes the decision-making power regarding assertion of privilege out of the hands of individual clergy and ensures that any clergy who learns of a child being abused or mistreated will have the obligation to report that abuse.

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