(RNS) -- Reversing its position of the last three years, the RomanCatholic church in Massachusetts has thrown its support behind a stateproposal to require clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse. In a statement released Tuesday (Aug. 7), the executive director ofthe Massachusetts Catholic Conference -- the public policy branch of theBoston Archdiocese -- said he would help lobby for approval of theproposal during the current legislative session. Just last week, however, Executive Director Gerald D'Avolio hadwarned that trust between priests and parishioners would be compromisedif priests were required to report conversations between the two. Under terms of the bill, approved July 31 by a House committee,clergy are included among workers such as teachers and doctors who arerequired by law to alert authorities to suspected cases of child abuse. Clergy would not be required to report information gleaned fromchurch confessions. The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. James Jajuga, said he was"elated" by the church's new support. "If there had been mandated reporting among clergy before, we couldhave saved some kids from abuse," said the Catholic lawmaker, who hasfaced church opposition each of the last three years he has sponsoredthe bill. Jajuga said he believed the recent exposure of cases in whichchildren were sexually abused by church workers will help his proposalgain support from state legislators, most of whom are Catholic. In July, a former church youth leader pleaded guilty to 75 chargesof child rape and molestation in what prosecutors claim is the largestsex abuse case in state history.
A month earlier, Boston archbishopCardinal Bernard Law admitted that even after receiving information thatseven boys had been molested by priest John Geoghan, he sent the priestto work in other parishes. The now-defrocked priest will stand trialnext month on charges of molesting at least 70 children in six parishes,according to the Associated Press. "There's no question those highlighted the concern among theCatholic hierarchy about this problem," said Jajuga, whose bill nowneeds approval from the Senate, the entire House and the governor.