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Kansas clergy not mandatory reporters for child sex crimes

State lawmaker prepares to introduce legislation he says will better protect children
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Posted at 6:38 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-16 15:30:50-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Following a KBI report involving child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Kansas, the KSHB 41 I-Team has been digging into allegations made in the past, as well as examining possible solutions to prevent this type of abuse in the future.

And, what we're hearing from some critics, is that not enough is being done to ensure these crimes are reported.

But first, to quickly recap the findings of the KBI's 4-year investigation, 188 Catholic church members were identified as possibly committing crimes ranging from rape to aggravated sexual battery to indecent liberties with a child.

Out of those, the KBI presented charging information for 30 clergy members.

But, because the statute of limitations has run out in many cases or those clergy members are no longer alive, no prosecutors have filed any charges in those cases so far.

Following this report, Archbishop Joseph Naumann said in a statement, "You cannot read this report without your heart breaking."

He later added the Diocese of Kansas has created programs to "... protect children and vulnerable adults in its parishes and schools."

But some lawmakers say more needs to be done to protect victims.

That includes ensuring religious leaders are required to be mandatory reporters, meaning they're legally obligated to report abuse.

In Kansas, there's no statute requiring clergy members to be mandatory reporters (unless they work in or are affiliated with a school, in which case they fall under the category of "school personnel.")

Still, for those not in a school setting, there's no state law requiring them to report child sex abuse.

According to a federal report in 2015, Kansas is joined by Hawaii, Iowa, New York, Virginia, Washington, and South Dakota.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, clergy are considered mandated reporters. But, there's what some lawmakers describe as a "loophole," where religious leaders are granted an "exception" for a "privileged conversation" between a Priest or Pastor and his or her parishioner, often referred to in the Catholic Church as a confession.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin have similar state statutes.

Only New Hampshire and West Virginia go so far as to make clergy mandatory reporters and deny any kind of exceptions to that reporting requirement.

However, there's been a push to change that in recent years.

"I’ve been trying since 2019 to make clergy mandatory reporters, and I’ve been fought every step of the way by the legislature," maintains Kansas Senator Tom Holland.

The Democrat attributes the refusal of fellow lawmakers to back the legislation to politics and political funding.

"Kansans for Life, the Catholic Church, those stakeholders, they have a very strong pull in our super majority Republican legislature. I think that was particularly exacerbated last year, as you recall, we had the "Value Them Both" constitutional amendment, obviously heavily supported by pro-life individuals and legislators and heavily supported by the Catholic Church. And I think the last year, in particular, they didn’t want to touch the issue of basically the clergy abuse," Senator Holland adds.

But, now that the amendment has failed and the KBI's report has been released, he's hopeful his bill will see more support.

"People need to report! I mean, when our school teachers, EMS, or social workers, everybody else is required to do this? Okay, we can’t give our religious leaders a pass," he explains.

The Catholic Bishops of Kansas released a statement Thursday after KSHB 41's initial report.

"On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Kansas we commend the courageous victims who have stepped forward with their stories of abuse.  Justice for all victims harmed by the insidious acts of sexual abuse—no matter the perpetrator or the circumstance—is a top priority of the Catholic Church.  There is no time limitation on when the Catholic Church will offer services and support to clergy abuse victims.  We ask that any changes to current law in Kansas must first prioritize survivors, while still embracing the basic principles of fairness, justice, and due process.  The KBI report was requested by Archbishop Naumann on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Kansas. Please know that we will be reviewing any proposed legislation with a heart toward victims of sexual abuse.  The Catholic Bishops of Kansas have enthusiastically supported—and continue to support—legislation mandating that duly ordained clergy members report instances abuse and neglect."

Sen. Holland says he hopes to reintroduce the bill proposed in 2019 later this week, a bill that not only requires clergy to be mandatory reporters but also doesn't offer them any exceptions regarding reporting abuse involving children.

He has support on the other side of the state line.

Missouri State Representative Raychel Proudie has also introduced a bill on this topic.

Her proposed legislation would eliminate the provision that covers privileged communication made to a minister or clergyperson.