BOSTON (AP) - Amid the biggest child-molestation scandal to rock the nation's Roman Catholic Church, the Massachusetts state House approved legislation Tuesday requiring clergy to report evidence of sexual abuse of children to authorities.

Clergy would not have to report anything they learned in confession or other usually privileged conversations if their religion forbids it.

A version of the bill passed the Senate in January; the legislation must go back to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

The measure, approved overwhelmingly in a voice vote by the House, extends to members of the clergy the mandatory reporting law that applies to teachers, social workers and other professionals in Massachusetts.

``This is about protecting kids,'' said Rep. Anthony Cabral.

Acting Gov. Jane Swift will sign the bill when it arrives on her desk, spokesman James Borghesani said.

Religious leaders have been exempted from the 30-year-old requirement that they report suspected child abuse to the Department of Social Services.

The bill has gained steam with the widening sex scandal involving the Archdiocese of Boston, the fourth-largest archdiocese in the United States, with about 2.1 million Catholics.

Last week, John Geoghan, a 66-year-old former priest accused of molesting more than 130 children, was sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison for groping a 10-year-old boy. In recent months it was disclosed that archdiocesan leaders knew about the allegations over the past four decades and did little more than move him from parish to parish.

Within the past month, Cardinal Bernard Law has given prosecutors the names of 80 priests suspected of molesting children during the past four decades, and suspended 10 active priests.

The new legislation would also apply to lay employees who ``supervise, educate, coach, train, or counsel a child on a regular basis.''

Last year, Christopher Reardon, a former youth coordinator at a Catholic church in Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to 75 charges, including rape and sexual assault on boys.

The House version also sets a July 8 deadline for reporting past abuse.

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