ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Thursday rejected, 7-4, a Senate bill to clarify an exemption for clergy’s reporting of child abuse.
Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, who voted to dump the bill, pointed out that an “exemption for confession” is already contained in the current reporting law.
But Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, disagreed, saying he did not see the harm in changing the law to clarify the exemption.
The bill, SB 237, was heard in the Senate March 10 and Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee, which has yet to vote on its version.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, while the House legislation is sponsored by Delegate Pauline Menes, D-Prince George’s.
The Rev. Thomas Patrick Doyle, who testified in the Senate in favor of the proposed legislation, agreed that the safety of the children should be first priority.
“This abuse has been done to the detriment of society,” said Doyle, who has been a leading critic nationally of the Roman Catholic clergy since the mid 1980’s for covering up child abuse. “The Roman Catholic Church does not have a great track record.”
At Wednesday’s House hearing, the Rev. Steward Frazier, of Baltimore’s Citizen’s Review Board for Children, said reporting of child abuse is crucial because of the rampant child abuse throughout different realms of society, which hurts the most vulnerable group of people, children.
“The church should not be a haven for child abuse,” said Frazier.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s yearlong study released in February found allegations of sexual abuse against 4,392 Catholic priests; 10,667 individuals made allegations of child abuse in approximately 40 to 50 years.
“There are many people who support this legislation. We have to give up a little something in order for more children to be protected from abuse,” said David Conn, representing the Maryland Jewish Alliance.
Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, pointed out the ramifications of the wording of the legislation, saying it’s difficult to determine whether corporal punishment would be considered abuse.
“My concern is that if a church of any denomination supports corporal punishment, under this bill, the pastor would be subject to disclosure and held liable for not disclosing,” said Dwyer, a Presbyterian. “The language of the bill sometimes adversely affects the intent of the bill.”
While the bill is sensitive to the idea of protecting the right to confidentiality of the Catholic Church’s confessional, Dwyer said, he questioned what happens to other denominations, such as Protestants, who are not afforded the same privileges of privacy.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, said if a person repeatedly comes into to the Catholic Church and says that he beats his child again and again, that is the kind of situation that should be reported.
Yet, Kelly, a Catholic, supports exempting confession.
Kelly said he was very disturbed by the Catholic clergy situation and the amount of abuse that had been covered up.
“The Catholic Church really screwed up with regards to the charges levied against high-ranking officials within the church,” said Kelly. “Now, everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. There are now false claims of abuse and people who claim repressed memories.”
Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said he believes that penitence should be “sacrosanct.” Simmons problem with the bill stems from the legislation because it’s “unintentionally broad” and causes all denominations to suffer.
“The question is can we hammer out language that preserves the confessional while requiring the reporting of child abuse,” Simmons said.