U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia Launches Hotline for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy

WASHINGTON – The Superior Court Division’s Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section and the Victim Witness Assistance Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are launching a hotline and e-mail address for survivors to report child sexual abuse by clergy, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu announced today.

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia Launches Hotline for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy

An Insider’s Account about How a Report of Child Sex Abuse Is Handled

By Michael Paddock

In November 2016, I made a life-altering decision. After 47 years of association with Jehovah’s Witnesses, many of those spent as an elder in the congregation, I chose to leave. Although there were many reasons for this decision, it was the issue of how child sexual abuse has been mishandled that pushed me to this choice.

Since I had served as an elder, I knew the organization’s policies well. But, I had never had to handle a case of child sexual abuse directly. Once I saw how these practices were applied and how damaging they are, I could no longer support them. When I saw the extent that the organization would go to in order to defend their position and the abusers themselves, I knew I couldn’t stay.

As more people become aware of the problem with child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness organization, it might be helpful to understand the full scope of the issue. Having been trained in these policies, I would like to make things clearer by presenting a typical scenario of child sexual abuse and how the organization directs it to be handled.

  • A minor tells her parent that someone in the organization has molested her. Due to the training that Jehovah’s Witnesses receive, the parent’s first instinct would be to call one of the congregation elders to report the situation instead of calling the proper legal authorities.
  • After hearing this report, the elder would contact the Coordinator of the Body of Elders for his congregation. The Coordinator would arrange for a meeting of the Body of Elders to determine who on the local body of elders should investigate this claim. Again, the proper legal authorities would not be contacted.
  • Two elders would be assigned to talk to the victim and her parent to gather details. If they determine that the child is giving a truthful account, they would report back to the Coordinator about their findings. The proper legal authorities would still not be notified.
  • Their next step would be to call the Legal Department of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBS) in New York. The Legal Department would then direct them as to whether or not they are legally obligated to contact the proper legal authorities to report the case. The default stance taken is that, unless there is a specific state law directing them to do so, the authorities need not be notified.
  • The elders then determine if there will need to be an internal judicial hearing about the accusation. If there is only one witness to the abuse, as is the case in almost every instance of sexual abuse, they will not pursue it further. If there are two witnesses to that specific instance or if there are multiple reports from different children that this has happened at the hands of the same person, they will form a judicial committee to determine whether the offender is repentant. This committee will decide whether the offender can remain a member of the congregation or will be excommunicated, or disfellowshipped according to Jehovah’s Witness nomenclature.
  • If the offender is not disfellowshipped, other members are not informed about the situation. At the most, an announcement might be made that the offender was “reproved” but displayed repentance. No mention of the type of crime will be divulged to the congregation. Parents will be unaware that a sexual offender is in their midst. They will continue to socialize and trust that their children are safe even in the presence of the offender.
  • In addition to having access to children within the congregation, the offender will also go door to door in the public ministry. Jehovah’s Witnesses view their public evangelizing work as an obligation that every member must fulfill. So, even the offender will be expected to go from door to door or engage in other forms of public ministry. This gives the offender direct access to children that are not in the congregation.
  • If the judicial committee had determined that the offender should be disfellowshipped, he would still be allowed to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall (church), but he would not be allowed to go in the public ministry. After a time, he can petition the elders to be reinstated into the congregation. If they agree, he will once again be a full member and be able to socialize with and be close to all members of the congregation. He will also be expected to engage in the public ministry again, going from door to door to all houses in his area.
  • At no time in this process will the elders warn parents about the predator in their midst. They may monitor his behavior but will not attempt to keep parents informed about his crime. Since they are unable to watch the offender’s actions all the time, there is ample opportunity for the predator to have access to children.
  • Elders are not trained in how to deal with and assist the victims of abuse. No psychological or emotional support will be provided other than sharing some scriptures that are deemed relevant. Elders will also not encourage victims or parents to seek outside counseling as this is considered “worldly” and potentially dangerous to their spirituality.

There are multiple problems in each step of this process. The facts that authorities are not called unless required (even then it is long after the abuse), no warning is given to parents, no psychological assistance is available to parents or victim, and that the predator has access to children make this a system fraught with danger.

SCAARS is making efforts to effect a change in legislation so that these dangers can be eliminated. When considering your personal stance on this issue, please consider the positive impact of mandating all reports of child sexual abuse, expanding the statute of limitations for this crime, and helping victims find the mental and emotional support they need.

Joe Anderson’s Letter

Joe and Barbara Anderson

By Roger Bentley (Letter: Joe Anderson)

After Joe Anderson resigned as an elder in the Manchester, Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s), he wrote a resignation letter, dated June 5, 2002, and sent it to officials at the World Headquarters of JW’s in Brooklyn, NY. A copy of that letter is found below.

In addition, close friends, Daniel Sydlik and Jack Barr, both members of JW’s Governing Body, received a copy as well as each elder in Joe’s home congregation in Manchester, Tennessee.

Approximately, eight weeks later, Joe Anderson was disfellowshipped by JW’s leaders who used Joe’s letter as a basis to do so. From then on, this exemplary Christian man, who ministered to the flock for 42-years, has been shunned by his son, Lance, and daughter-in-law, Wendy, their two children, and all other JW’s that were part of his life.

What did Joe say in his resignation letter that was so injurious and evil that would cause such extreme action taken by his religion? Read on and decide for yourself whether shunning Joe Anderson is justified.

Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Service Department
2821 Route 22
Patterson, NY 12563-2237

June 5, 2002

Re: Letter of resignation

Dear Brothers,

This letter pertains to my wish to no longer serve as an elder in the Manchester, Tennessee Congregation. Knowing what I do about our organization’s child molestation problem and other matters here in the Manchester Congregation, I find it difficult to keep serving as an elder. Undoubtedly, how we as elders handle allegations of molestation in our organization has troubled me for quite some time.

I was pleased to note from J. R. Brown’s February 7, 2002 letter to Dateline NBC that our organization would hear views and opinions from individuals within the framework of the congregation, so I take this time to ask that you resolve some of my differences of opinion according to Scriptural principals.

Since I have been in close proximity to the child molestation issue because of my wife Barbara, I have come to know of hundreds of molestation cases mismanaged by elders. Without a doubt, many elders are incapable of correctly dealing with molestation allegations, but others followed verbal and written directions from headquarters that caused immeasurable sorrow and lifelong unhappiness to the victims and their families. Almost every day for the last several years, I’ve read accounts sent to my wife from victims describing their disagreeable encounters with elders and the Society, which, in effect, has punished them and protected their molesters. I know that Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole, plus those outside of our organization say that they hate child molesters even more than murderers, but whether they really do or not is shown by their feelings and actions.

Inasmuch as child molestation is an act done in secret, and since we the elders and the Society compound this by keeping such acts committed within our group a secret, the Witnesses are under the illusion that our organization doesn’t have a problem with molestation. Of course, each elder knows if there are any accused or confessed molesters within his congregation, but elders don’t know if there are molesters in other congregations. Consequently, because elders are unable to guage the scope of this situation because of the secrecy, most think there isn’t a problem. Now, due to media coverage of many distressing cases of molestation within our organization, many elders are very disturbed. Without question, I’m sure that you are also.

Here’s one example of why keeping molestation a secret from the congregation does not work: I’m personally acquainted with a woman who was divorced, and when her little girl was molested she went straight to the elders. They did not report the accused to the police, although Tennessee requires ministers to report child abuse. It took a sister in the congregation, who found out about the rape years later, to go to the police. This resulted in the molester being sentenced to eight years in prison. As far as I know, this man was previously accused of molesting three girls in another state and when he moved to Tennessee, the elders were notified of his past, yet, they warned no one in the congregation as per the Society’s instructions. Before he was arrested, he molested two girls in Tennessee. So who was right? The sister who reported him or the elders who kept the secret? In our congregation, one elder told the other elders that if anyone molested his child, he would call the police first and elders later. Are you aware of how many elders feel this way? I personally know that many elders feel that they really can do nothing to help in these cases. Yet you instruct that an accusation of molestation within the congregation be reported first to the elders.

The October 8, 1993 Awake! states that child molesters want something else from their victims-“SILENCE.” Are we not sharers in guilt with the molester when we don’t encourage victims to go to the authorities where they will get help? Wouldn’t this be the Christian thing to do? Are we not sharers in guilt with a molester, who silences the victim with threats, when we silence members in the congregation with threats if they warn others? In the May 24, 2002 letter to all the congregations in the United States, you stated that “…even one abused child is one too many.” This same letter says, “At least since 1981, articles have been published in our journals, with a view to educating Jehovah’s people on the need to protect children from child abuse.” How can you educate Jehovah’s people by keeping such secrets? To be able to protect their children, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a right to know as part of their education if there are any people within the congregation accused of molestation.

Incidentally, it seems to me that if concerned people had not gone to the media about the child abuse problems in our organization, this subject would not have been addressed at the elder’s school last year. It was obvious that there was a change of attitude by the statement made that “Child abuse is a crime.” Now elders no longer treat molestation as a sin like adultery or fornication, but as something far more serious, a crime. This was a welcome change.

Recently, a woman who used to be a Witness told me, after she read an article in our local newspaper about Jehovah’s Witnesses and allegations of child abuse, that she was molested by someone who attended the Manchester Congregation many years ago. I’ve known her family for over twenty-five years and remembered her as a young girl. The man she accused is a very good friend of mine for over thirty years. If I go to my friend with another elder confronting him and he denies the allegation, I’m in a dilemma because I want him not to be guilty. How can I provide justice when I’m partial? Of course, I could remove myself from this situation, but why should we even be put in a position to judge our brothers in such matters where it takes the wisdom of Solomon to sort it out. According to the October 8, 1993 Awake! it is improbable that a child who accuses a person of molestation is lying. However, I believe it is better to err in behalf of a child than the accused. But the question arises, why are we as elders even investigating this crime of child abuse? Can we as elders really identify a person as a molester when an accusation is made?

Of course, something has to be done when accusations are made but can’t be proved, but most Witnesses want to leave situations like this in Jehovah’s hands. To me this is shifting responsibility. Our organization has guides to settle disputes and discover truth, but in the above case, if the accused denied the allegation, the investigation is over until someone else comes forward accusing the same person (something that happens infrequently). Since elders have been told that molestation is a crime, why can’t our brothers go first to the authorities with an accusation and then inform the elders. We expect our brothers to go first to the authorities with an accusation of murder. Moreover, it is inconceivable to think elders would investigate an allegation of murder to determine guilt or innocence, so why would we investigate an allegation of child abuse to determine guilt or innocence? This is just not our field of expertise. We are ministers of God, not police. The authorities and their child abuse experts sometimes make mistakes, but nothing like the mistake of just asking the accused “Did you do it?” and the reply is “No.” If there is not another witness to the act, consequently, all charges are dropped, the matter is closed, and the victim is warned not to talk about it or else.

This brings me to the subject of victims having to provide another witness to his/her molestation. There are contradictions associated with this rule. In the past, Watchtower literature stated that two witnesses to each act must be provided before judicial action could be taken. Now there’s something new: “two persons as witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of wrongdoing can be deemed sufficient to take action.” Which is it? Also, just what kind of action is to be taken? Judicial action which could lead to disfellowshipping? Or investigative action leading to the determination of guilt and then reporting the allegation to the authorities? If our teachings mean we must meet the above criteria before we report to the authorities, as many elders think we do, I say, “NO!” We shouldn’t invoke the two-witness rule when it comes to whether elders should report an accusation to authorities. In fact, let me reiterate, I believe that elders should not be investigating an accusation of child abuse before the authorities are called in.

The flock is told that elders are loving, kind and sensitive. Yet, time and again, I have heard of extremely ignorant or worst behavior on the part of elders when involved in sexual abuse cases. For instance, a child in our circuit accused her grandfather of molestation. Her mother went to the police and the man (a brother) admitted his guilt. I was told that the case was handled satisfactorily by all concerned except when the mother was approached by the presiding overseer of the congregation and he said, “If it’s any consolation to you, your daughter enjoyed the act!” The mother left the organization because she couldn’t handle the idea that this man was her spiritual shepherd!

Another case comes to mind: A sister told of being molested when she was eight years old. The man confessed, but one of the elders asked her then, “What kind of clothes were you wearing?” She was advised to make peace with the perpetrator, and her family was counseled to invite him over for a meal. It’s obvious that a question and advice like this proves that elders are not qualified and shouldn’t be involved. If I know of hundreds of cases like these, you must know of thousands.

Children and women are very vulnerable in this male-dominated world, and this is true also in our organization. I have quoted James 1:27 many, many times and have heard it quoted from the platform an equal number of times. Of course, you well know this scripture where James said, “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself with out spot from the world.” Generally, we emphasized the end of this scripture and rarely analyzed the situation orphans and widows found themselves in when the husband and father died. Primarily they were without a protector, which made them extremely vulnerable. Although the situation has changed somewhat today, there still are many areas where orphans and widows need help and elders should give special care to their needs. And especially is this so with regard to those who are sexually abused. Who are their protectors, if not those who can be likened to spiritual fathers-the elders. God puts them under our care and yours too. Whatever it takes, we should go the extra mile to help abused ones. However, it appears that our organization will sacrifice a child to keep the person who denies an allegation of molestation.

In your letter to All Bodies of Elders, February 15, 2002, you instruct us to, “Never suggest to anyone that they should not report an allegation of child abuse to the police or other authorities.” Why should elders be put in a position to suggest or not to suggest reporting an allegation? The victim or caregivers and the rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be informed by elders to always call the police if a crime has occurred, no buts or ifs about it.

Also, in this same February 15, 2002 letter, you say, “If you are asked, make it clear that whether to report the matter to the authorities or not is a personal decision for each individual to make.” This is inaccurate information and illegal in seventeen states. In these seventeen reporting states, everybody is obligated to report even suspicion of child abuse. In Tennessee this has been the law since 1972. In Kentucky the law is the same. And why would Kentucky resident, Bill Bowen, as seen on Dateline, be told by someone in the Legal Department to not report a case of molestation? What is the Society’s Legal Department doing giving us wrong information such as the above?

In the January 1, 1997 Watchtower, a policy statement is found that a man known to have been a molester can not hold a position of authority within the congregation. This policy is certainly appreciated and shows your concern for protecting the flock. However, the word “known” appears to be a confusing problem. Who is he “known” to, the elders-is the determination of his guilt or innocence in their hands? What if the victim can’t prove to the elders that he/she was molested because of being unable to produce another witness to the act does this mean the accused remains in his position? I believe this is so because he is then “known” or considered by the elders to be not guilty. (He is then not “known” to be a molester.) Elders should never be given the power to determine who is to be a “known” molester or not because they are untrained and unqualified. This policy puts children in the congregation at risk and should be reevaluated.

In your statement in the May 24, 2002 letter to all congregations you say, “We have long instructed elders to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities where it is required by law to do so.” Where God is concerned, if this is a crime, it’s a crime everywhere. If wrong in one state, why not in others? Also, if it’s wrong we should do the right thing whether the laws of the land require it or not. Aren’t we supposed to be morally better than the world? Do we not go an extra step or two because of conscience? Another point taken from the same statement as quoted above is this: You say, “We have long instructed elders to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities.” Where is it written as policy that elders are instructed to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities? Your statement as quoted above is a half-truth and misleads the reader. What is not understood is that elders have written instructions to call the Legal Department where they will be told that if their state requires a minister to report the allegation, they should report it. That’s a far different matter than “long instructed elders to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities.”

Another point I want to discuss with you is the recent disfellowshipping of my wife, Barbara. The scriptures used for disfellowshipping her are found in 1 Corinthians 5:1-12. The letter from L. Seely, presiding overseer of the Manchester Congregation, said that Barbara was disfellowshipped for causing divisions, not for committing any of the wicked acts Paul described in 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, i.e., gross wickedness, sexual immorality, etc. It was the Society’s spokesman, J. R. Brown, who accused my wife of committing some unspecified “spiritual violations” or “sins” for which she was being called before a judicial committee. This most certainly blemished my wife’s character before the whole world, especially since no proof was offered then or ever.

It was the Watchtower Society that forced Barbara to go to the media about the judicial hearing convened by the local congregation at orders of the Watchtower’s Legal Department. It is obvious that because she went to the media about the sexual abuse issue that she caused divisions among the flock. Why didn’t J. R. Brown just say so instead of accusing her of “sins” and blacken her character? It was because headquarters knew there was absolutely no proof she caused divisions by propagating her views about child abuse before she went to the media.

If Barbara was disfellowshipped because of causing divisions, the Apostle Paul should have been disfellowshipped for causing divisions among the flock because he publicized sensational sexual immorality in the Corinthian congregation. Not only did he discuss with the Corinthian Congregation how he felt about the congregation hiding fornication in their midst, he recorded his accusations for millions of people to read in the Bible during the past 2,000 years. Why is it okay for Paul to have gone public revealing disgraceful conduct that was being condoned in the congregation, but when my wife goes public about the organization condoning and protecting immoral people by bad policies, she is punished? Moreover, wicked and immoral acts have been equated to her by applying 1 Cor. 5 as the reason for her disfellowshipping. I believe this to be unchristian. I also believe that disfellowshipping my wife violated the Apostle Paul’s command to each one of us to work to keep the congregation clean no matter what the cost. Furthermore, disfellowshipping her for causing divisions because she publicly spoke out about uncleanness in our organization is a violation of the freedom of speech Christ brought us.

Inasmuch as I cannot be guided by your polices on child molestation, it is difficult for me to remain an elder. I’m not expecting a response to this letter. If any changes in your policies occur, I’m sure they will appear in our publications.

Thank you for considering this letter and I hope nothing less than the Christian thing will be done in behalf of the victims and those speaking out.

Child Protection in America

By Barbara Anderson

Sad to say that for centuries in the U.S.A. animals were better protected from abuse than children. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) began in 1866, but there was no organization in existence to protect children from abuse. It was in the early 1870’s, when a particularly horrific case of a child in a foster home being whipped daily came to the public’s attention. Things began to change when attorneys for the ASPA argued that laws protecting animals from abuse should not be greater than laws protecting children. Soon, the world’s first child protection organization, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, was established in 1875 as a nongovernmental organization.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that a public call was made for both state and federal governments to focus on child protection services as an arm of social services. In 1935, Douglas Falconer wrote the following on the best proactive approach towards child protection: “For many years responsibility for child protection was left almost entirely to private agencies … Great sections of child population were untouched by them and in many other places the service rendered was perfunctory and of poor standard … The belief has become increasingly accepted that if children are to be protected from neglect the service must be performed by public agencies.”

In 1962 pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleagues published one of the first articles dealing with the subject of child abuse within America, “The Battered Child Syndrome.”

Further, in 1962 Congressional amendments to the Social Security Act placed a greater emphasis on child protection. By the end of the 1960’s laws had been enacted in nearly all states that placed the responsibility for child protection in the hands of the government. Despite a state and federal shift towards governmental responsibility to protect children, in 1973, U.S. Senator Walter Mondale wrote in a letter, “Nowhere in the Federal Government could we find one official assigned full time to the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect.” Congress responded with the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (CAPTA).

With the availability of federal funding state investigators were able to respond to, and investigate allegations of child abuse, including physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.

By the end of the 1970’s the prevalence of child sexual abuse within society was starting to be reported by mainstream media that continues today. Nevertheless, child abuse happens more than people care to believe. It has been reported that in the U.S. annually, more than three million reports of child abuse are made involving nearly six million children.

Today, more than ever, there is a need for state laws that match in the area of reporting abuse and neglect; protecting children from abuse, and regarding statutes of limitations, instead of the confusing, diverse laws respecting these matters seen in place from state to state.

It is imperative that state legislators sponsor Bills that reform outdated, objectionable and unacceptable laws that do little to protect children and that do not give a voice to abuse victims who want justice in criminal or civil courts. Reporting laws for charitable institutions need to be improved, plus “Working with Children” laws need to be enacted. If the safety and welfare of our children becomes a paramount legislative issue for elected officials, just imagine what could be accomplished nowadays in America.

Should Confessions to Clergy Be Exempted from Mandatory Reporting of Child Sex Abuse?

By Michael Walter Finkbeiner

The history of confession, along with the penance and absolution it achieves in the mind of the believer, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Exodus chapter 21, which immediately follows the Ten Commandments, gives priests authority to adjudicate cases of wrongful death, with the power to set a compensation price on the value of a life. In this tribal desert setting, the priesthood held the rights and duties of the State’s interest in administration of law over life and death matters, inheritance, crimes and punishments.

By the Christian era, the Roman authority and law code had become the State’s interest, with permission given to local religious bodies for adjudication of cases, but not capital punishment or judgments against Roman citizens. However, the path to absolution from sin, redemption and salvation in the Christian faith was through open confession and penance as evidence for repentance. The early congregations had religious authority to expel members from the congregation for gross sins (1 Cor 5) or to re-instate them on the basis of being “grieved into repentance.”1

By the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Canon 13 gave priests of the church the power to absolve sins at a death-bed confession and change the penitent’s outcome from damnation to salvation. In 459 AD Pope Leo’s “Magna indignatione” gave priests sufficient power to determine penance to be rendered for sins privately confessed, according to the conscience solely of the priest, who kept the sins secret. Over the next 1000 years, this arrangement lead to corruptions of indulgences by payment, which enriched the clergy, since priests had power to convert damnation into salvation for land, money, jewels or other valued possessions, which would be useless for the penitent in the fires of hell.

Following the Norman conquest of Britain the Roman Church exercised control over civil powers of Europe, with bishops manning the King’s courts.2 Following the Reformation, civil governments began to take back the power of the clergy and to limit the authority of the church. After 1750 the Jesuits were expelled from many European countries and civil authorities took control of most aspect of organized society. For example, The British Parliament passed the “Murder Act” in 1752 with specifications for adjudication. The “Offences Against the Person Act” of 1828 codified somewhat earlier laws on sexual assault. Penetration of a girl under the age of 10 was punishable by death, whereas age 10 to 12 specified a misdemeanor with a term of hard labor. Proof of ejaculation was replaced by proof of penetration, making convictions easier for the victims. Thus civil authority dealt increasingly with crimes of sexual abuse, while clergy were limited to spiritual steps to absolution for the perpetrators.

Which Clergy or Religions are included?

In the United States, the first Amendment to the Constitution protected religious rights of belief and largely of practice. In 1813, Catholic priests were exempted from compelled testimony on their knowledge of confessed crimes, thus establishing the legal precedent for an exception privilege to reporting.3 In 1817, the compulsory and sacramental nature of confession in the Catholic religion was granted the privilege by reference, but denied to the Protestant churches, where confession is not a sacrament and the minister is merely a spiritual advisor, with optional confession of sin without the power to absolve guilt by a specification of penance.4

Granting the privilege on the basis of Catholic affiliation alone was gradually replaced by legislation in every state broadening the exception to clergy of any religion, with certain underlying circumstances.5 States vary in their specifications for the relationship. Some make the sacramental nature of confession necessary, whereas others allow a broader relationship to clergy as merely a spiritual advisor.

In California, the Evidence Code specifies that, “penitential communication means a communication made in confidence, in the presence of no third person so far as the penitent is aware, to a member of the clergy who, in the course of the discipline or practice of the clergy member’s church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications and, under the discipline or tenets of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.”6 Therefore, ecclesiastical bodies that conduct internal judicial hearings that receive evidence by committee violate this one-to-one secret confession, which must not be divulged to others.

One suggestion for reform to narrow the California privilege is to “Limit penitent communication to confidential communication in accordance with the tenets, customs, or practices of a church, religious denomination that make it non-optional, and that is only between a penitent and a clergy member who has a duty to the penitent to keep all communications secret.”7

Further, the over-riding interest of the State should be to protect victims from risk of further abuse, or to designate the abuser as a danger to children. One practice implemented in Victoria Province of Australia, following the December 2017, “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse”8 is to require all persons working with children in an institutional setting to receive training, a police background check, and card-carrying certification for “Working with Children.”9

Since 2011, a Federal standard for mandatory reporting of child sex abuse has been embodied in Senator Robert Casey’s “Speak Up” Act for child protection10 and would include as mandatory reporters, “Clergy, including Christian Science practitioners, except where prohibited on account of clergy-penitent privilege.” This privilege needs a better, narrowed specification by law.

Conclusion: History and current law embed a privileged exception for a type of confidential confession, exercising the believer’s right in a pathway to redemption and absolution of the sin of child sex abuse. This right and Canon Law should be respected, but only if the victim is safe from further abuse, and the abuser is tracked and restricted in access to new victim populations. The crime of abuse belongs to the state, while absolution from sin is part of protected religious belief. The nature of sex abuse is that perpetrators train and groom new child victims through protections obtained from an institutional structure. Reform for Child Safety to Stop Abuse must narrow and limit the clergy-penitent privilege of exclusion from mandatory reporting to child protection authorities.

Michael Walter Finkbeiner
Oct 8, 2018

1 Byington Translation 2 Cor 7:9
2 Tiemann & Bush, “The Right to Silence: Privileged Clergy Communication and the Law (1983) Note 7 pp. 109-110
3 https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/746/people-v-phillips
4 http://www.gspalaw.com/the-clergy-penitent-privilege-an-overview/
5 R. Michael Cassidy, Sharing Shared Secrets: Is It (Past) Time for a Dangerous Person Exception to the Clergy Penitent
Privilege, 44 Wm. & Mary Law. Review. 1627, 1638 (2003).
6 Evidence Code – EVID DIVISION 8. PRIVILEGES [900 – 1070] (Division 8 enacted by Stats. 1965, Ch. 299.)
CHAPTER 4. Particular Privileges [930 – 1063] (Chapter 4 enacted by Stats. 1965, Ch. 299.) ARTICLE 8. Clergy Penitent Privileges [1030 – 1034] (Heading of Article 8 amended by Stats. 2002, Ch. 806, Sec. 18.)
7 See SCAARS website for further examples of State Statute Reforms.
8 https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/
9 http://www.workingwithchildren.vic.gov.au/
10 Senate Bill #982 — 115th Congress (2017-2018) Presently in the Health and Education Committee

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