Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The Concord Monitor reports:
For the second time in three years, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require religious leaders to report suspected cases of child abuse, even if they learn about that abuse in the privacy of a religious confession.
The Diocese of Manchester opposes the bill, saying it would interfere with religious freedom without making children safer.
The Child Protection Act, enacted in 1979, requires any person in the state who suspects abuse or neglect to report those suspicions to law enforcement. That law specifically includes religious officials. But another state law exempts clergy from having to testify in court about anything said in confession or in a similar spiritual-advice setting.
That ambiguity led Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, a Concord Democrat, to introduce a clarifying bill three years ago. Lawmakers killed that bill in 2004. . . .
Northfield Police Chief Scott Hilliard, representing the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, also spoke, identifying himself as a practicing Catholic and eucharistic minister - and a former child-abuse investigator. "(We) feel it's important that there be no exemptions from the mandatory reporting statute," he said, supporting the bill. . . .
Getting Catholic priests to comply could be a major issue, said Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, the chairman of the subcommittee, whether or not the bill would be challenged legally. Bettencourt, a Catholic, said he consulted his own priest about the bill. His priest would rather go to prison than divulge something learned in confession, he said.