(RNS) -- Reversing its position of the last three years, the Roman
Catholic church in Massachusetts has thrown its support behind a state
proposal to require clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse.
In a statement released Tuesday (Aug. 7), the executive director of
the Massachusetts Catholic Conference -- the public policy branch of the
Boston Archdiocese -- said he would help lobby for approval of the
proposal during the current legislative session.
Just last week, however, Executive Director Gerald D'Avolio had
warned that trust between priests and parishioners would be compromised
if 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 are
required by law to alert authorities to suspected cases of child abuse.
Clergy would not be required to report information gleaned from
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 could
have saved some kids from abuse," said the Catholic lawmaker, who has
faced church opposition each of the last three years he has sponsored
Jajuga said he believed the recent exposure of cases in which
children were sexually abused by church workers will help his proposal
gain support from state legislators, most of whom are Catholic.
In July, a former church youth leader pleaded guilty to 75 charges
of child rape and molestation in what prosecutors claim is the largest
sex abuse case in state history. A month earlier, Boston archbishop
Cardinal Bernard Law admitted that even after receiving information that
seven boys had been molested by priest John Geoghan, he sent the priest
to work in other parishes. The now-defrocked priest will stand trial
next 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 the
Catholic hierarchy about this problem," said Jajuga, whose bill now
needs approval from the Senate, the entire House and the governor.