Bill would require clergy to report child
BOSTON -- A bill requiring clergy members to report suspected cases of child abuse to law
enforcement could come up for a vote in the Massachusetts House as soon as next week, officials said
The bill has gained momentum since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston handed district
attorneys 80 names of priests believed to have sexually abused children during the past four decades.
Currently, religious leaders are not required to report suspected child abuse.
Backers of the bill, which has already passed the Senate, said the law is needed to protect children.
"The biggest ally that pedophiles have is people's silence, people's reluctance to come forward," said
Robert Curley, whose 10-year-old son Jeffrey Curley was murdered in 1997. The boy was lured into a
car by two men who smothered him when he resisted their sexual advances.
The bill would expand the state's mandatory reporting law, which already requires some professionals
such as teachers and social workers to report abuse. The new law would include "priest(s), rabbi(s),
ordained or licensed minister(s) of any church" or any person in a church acting as a leader or official.
Cardinal Bernard Law, head of the Boston archdiocese, last month announced a change in church policy
and said the names of all current and past priests suspected of child sexual abuse would be reported to
Some district attorneys have complained that the church has refused to turn over the names of victims.
Without the victims' identities, investigators said, it is difficult to pursue prosecution.
Making clergy mandatory reporters will help prosecutors hold abusers criminally responsible because
clergy would be forced to turn over the names of victims, according to the bill's sponsor, state Sen.
Cheryl A. Jacques, D-Needham.
Critics in the House said flawed wording in the Senate version of the bill will make it more difficult for
some clergy to report abuse.
The Senate bill would exempt any information learned through confession, which is already exempted
under the law, and all forms of counseling, some of which is not currently exempted.
That portion of the bill would unintentionally tie the hands of some clergy who are now free to report
suspected abuse, according to Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford.
Cabral said he hopes to amend the bill when it comes up in the House.
Curley and others supporters said the state's efforts to protect children against sexual abuse shouldn't
stop with the clergy.
Ann McCarron said she was first sexually abused by her pediatrician when she was 7. McCarron, now
39, said the abuse continued for five years, leading to bouts of alcoholism later in life.
"He told me if I told anyone, we would both go to jail. I was confused and very scared. I changed and
became very silent and numb," she said.
Yesterday, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said he expects the bill will pass.
Jacques is also pushing a second bill that would block attorneys from introducing evidence about an
alleged rape victim's past during trial and allow rape victims to bring civil suits using a fictitious name.
Meanwhile, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed regret
yesterday for priests who sexually abuse children and pledged to keep working to prevent such crimes.
"We continue to apologize to the victims and to their parents and their loved ones for this failure in our
pastoral responsibilities," Bishop Wilton Gregory said in a written statement.
Gregory acknowledged that sexual abuse by priests, which first gained national attention in the mid-
1980s, has done "immeasurable" damage to the church.
He outlined steps taken by the U.S. bishops to address the problem nationwide, such as improving
seminary screening and requiring a certificate of good standing for priests moving among dioceses.
"While we have made some tragic mistakes, we have attempted to be as honest and open about these
cases as we can, especially in following the law on these matters and cooperating with civil authorities,"
he said.
"We remain committed to seeing these initiatives implemented fully, because the church must be a place
of refuge and security, not a place of denial and distress."
Gregory, who leads the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., said only a small percentage of the nation's more than
40,000 priests were guilty of molestation. He asked U.S. Catholics to work together to prevent abuse.