2016-07-27
(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 church 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 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 the bill. 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.
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