California State Senator, Jerry Hill has proposed California Senate Bill 360 removing a sweeping clergy exemption from the State’s mandatory reporting laws of child abuse and neglect.
The proposal comes after discussions between the Senator’s staff and the Truth & Transparency Foundation (TTF) in November and December 2018. As part of the TTF’s mission to raise awareness of abuse within religious contexts, the TTF made many California legislators aware of the gaping hole in the law. Senator Hill took the lead in spearheading a fix by proposing the change.
Currently, California Penal Code § 11166(d)(1) states the following:
“A clergy member who acquires knowledge or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication is not [required to make a report].”
The code goes on to define “penitential communication” and effectively creates an exemption in which all California clergy are excused from reporting child abuse and neglect, a duty otherwise lawfully required of them by California Penal Code § 11165.7(a)(32)-(33).
SB 360 proposes § 11166(d)(1) be entirely removed, requiring all clergy in the State of California to report all instances of child abuse or neglect made known to them to the appropriate authorities.
The bill has support from many organizations and people, including clergy themselves. Rev. Dr. Jaime Romo, President of the Child-Friendly Faith Project and clergyman in San Diego said the following:
“For too long, religious authorities have been protected from reporting these cases, leaving children vulnerable and unsafe. Like teachers, physicians, and other mandatory reporters, members of the clergy often spend much time with families, and so they are in an ideal position to notice or learn if a child is being, or has been, harmed.”
The Survivor’s Network of those Abuse by Priests (SNAP) also aligns their organization with this new legislation, stating:
“In the past, clerical exemptions to mandatory reporting laws have allowed clergy not to report when they heard allegations of child abuse during confession or witnessed a child being abused by another cleric or church staffer. Any law that can help remove this secrecy and promote the protection of children and prevention of abuse is one that we support, and we hope that the California Senate will take up Senator Hill’s bill immediately.”
The TTF unequivocally supports California SB 360. It both protects survivors of abuse and holds religious institutions accountable while respecting the constitutional right to religious freedom. Religious repentance should always include restitution, and, in all criminal situations like that of abuse, restitution can only be made when justice is served by the laws of the land.