The Mandated Reporter
Mandated reporting is used in the state of Pennsylvania for the purpose of child protection. A number of professions make it obligatory for people to become mandated reporters as illustrated.
- These are professions where the mandated reporters are close to children or are in a position to observe incidents of child abuse.
- Some of the professions are medicine, nursing, the clergy, school staff, law enforcement officer, and a number of other professions that are concerned with children’s welfare. People in these professions are required by law to report cases of child abuse, negligence of which attracts criminal liability.
- Section 6311 of the Pennsylvania Child Protective Law protects children from abusers by making it obligatory for mandated reporters to report incidents of crime.
- Clergy-Penitent Privilege
Clergy-penitent privilege is a tradition in most of the United States. Having been brought to other Christian denominations from Catholicism as a privilege of those who confess of their transgressions, which include serious criminal offenses, discussions between the clergy and the confessor are not to be disclosed to anyone at any cost. For some serious crimes, this privilege has been opposed by the increasingly secular society. In Pennsylvania, statute, section 5943, Confidential Communication to Clergymen, forbids revelation of any information acquired during church routine in any legal proceeding. This law takes precedence with respect to the child protection law. In fact, the child protection law that makes it obligatory to report child abuse by mandated reporters explicitly excludes the particular situation as described in the “Confidential Communication to Clergymen” law.
- The Law as Applies to Church
The child protection law applies to children under the care of or under training with the church. As such, a clergyman who acquires enough information to warrant suspicion of abuse of a child who is under the direct care of the church is obligated to report to relevant authorities. This situation is different from the situation where the clergyman acquires information from another person regarding abuse of a child not under the direct care of the church. In other words, clergymen are obligated not to allow child abuse to occur within the church system under their watch. Therefore, under some circumstances, the clergy is not exempted from mandated reporting.
- The Roman Catholic Church denomination
For the Roman Catholic Church, the child protection laws affect the practice of confessions by endorsing the traditional confessional as follows.
- The denomination in question being a Roman Catholic Church, confessions from random worshipers are bound to reach the clergy and the issue of Clergy-penitent privilege will apply to each case.
- Confessions to clergy in the church are traditionally secret and are not to be revealed to any other authority. The clergy-penitent privilege makes sure that child protection laws do not create conflict with the freedom to practice religion.
- The Catholic Church, being one of the most conservative churches, does not dwell much on the idea of clergy-penitent privilege but supports the protection of confessions as a traditional practice by the cannon law.
- State of Adoption of the Law within Catholicism
It emerges that the idea of the clergy reporting to secular guardians of the law is still not welcome in the Catholic Church. It remains controversial just as other secular ideas such as birth control and using protection during sex. As far as the child protection law goes, there is little conflict within the denomination over the interpretation of the law. Application of the law is left to the moral interpretation of the individuals involved. The clergy-penitent privilege averts moral consequences that would be occasioned in the event of clergy disclosing confessions to law enforcement agencies. It is important that the clergy, as well as adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, be aware of the limits of clergy-penitent privilege as well as the limits of the protection offered by cannon law. With the increasing reports of abuse of children under care or training of the church, it is necessary to make it a habit for the clergy to report child abuse when the law and the cannon allows. The church and the children are protected when the clergy do not create a safe haven for child abusers.
Bevilacqua, A. (1996). Confidentiality Obligation of Clergy from the Perspective of Roman Catholic Priests. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.
Child Welfare Iformation Solution. (2014). Learn More. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from https://www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis/public/referralslearnmore
Sippel, J. A. (1994). Priest-Penitent Privilege Statutes: Dual Protection in the Confessional. Catholic University Law Review, 24(4).
Yellin, J. (1983). The History and Current Status of the Clergy- Penitent Privilege. Santa Clara Law Review, 23(1).