Victims, church support clergy reporting measure
Steve Maynard; The News Tribune
Abuse victims, lawyers and Catholic Church leaders strongly supported a bill Thursday that would add clergy to the professions required to report any suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services.
A clergy reporting law with strong penalties could have protected children from abuse in the 1960s, Gwen Caggiano of Tacoma said at a legislative hearing in Olympia.
Caggiano, now 54, says she was about 10 years old when she was sexually abused by a priest at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Tacoma. Her father told the pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Church about the abuse, but the priest in question was moved to various Catholic churches and schools, Caggiano said.
"I believe that had mandatory reporting been there with sufficient penalties for not reporting, this would have never happened," said Caggiano, who is affiliated with the Seattle chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Caggiano sued the Archdiocese of Seattle and the retired Tacoma priest in October over the alleged abuse.
By supporting the clergy reporting bill, Caggiano said, she wants to make sure "what happened to me doesn't happen to other kids."
State Attorney General Christine Gregoire said the lack of a clergy reporting requirement in Washington is "a serious omission."
"We know that laws will not guarantee proper behavior," Gregoire told the House Children & Family Services Committee. But in light of the priest sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and other communities, Gregoire said, "we have to do all we can to prevent similar events from happening in Washington state."
Among the 14 people who spoke out at a public hearing on the bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), some had concerns about the bill's provision exempting information about child abuse disclosed during confession. Priests believe they are bound by their ordination not to disclose what is said during confession.
Gregoire said the clergy reporting bill would "protect the sanctity of the confessional setting" but would not protect disclosures made during counseling.
Tom McBride, of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said some in his group worry priests will disclose abuse to other priests in confession.
Julie Watts, of the Washington Association of Churches, said she is concerned the language in the bill would not adequately exempt confession, formally called the sacrament of reconciliation, in the Episcopal Church.
Still others stressed that along with the clergy reporting bill, lawmakers must approve another bill that would do away with the statute of limitations on civil sex abuse lawsuits.
Sister Sharon Park and Kevin Glackin-Coley, leaders of the statewide Catholic lobbying group called the Washington State Catholic Conference, said they support the clergy reporting bill. Glackin-Coley said the Archdiocese of Seattle has required priests to report suspicions of child abuse since the mid-1980s.
Washington is one of about 20 states that do not require clergy to report child abuse. The bill would add clergy to therapists, teachers, nurses and numerous other professionals who must report child abuse within 48 hours after there is reasonable cause. Failure to do so could result in gross misdemeanor charges.
Clergy were removed from the list of mandatory reporters in Washington in 1975, but that could change during this legislative session, said Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Lake Forest Park), chairwoman of the Children & Family Services Committee.
"This clearly is an issue that we must address in this session," Kagi said.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647