Thirty-three states exempt clergy from reporting information about allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement or child welfare professionals if the church considers the information to be privileged.
That loophole represented a free pass to predators continuing to abuse children for years, even though they confessed their abuse to their officials. In addition to criminal matters, the privilege has been used to shield religious organizations from civil liability after civil authorities became aware of the behavior.
In Louisiana, the clergy is mandated reporters, except when it comes to confessionals. A Louisiana Supreme Court ruling ordered that priests have no duty to report any form of confidential information involving a sacramental confession.
According to the Associated Press, more than 130 bills over two decades have sought to create new or amend existing reporting laws involving child sex abuse. In response, the Roman Catholic Church used its lobbying infrastructure flush with financing to protect the privilege in many states. Some claim that the church believes that staying silent preserves the “pristine” names and reputations of these religious institutions.
They refer to it as a “divine mission.” Critics see it as a deliberate disincentive to contact authorities. Privilege proponents claim that the current rules will not make children safer. The ability of abusers to take their confessions to clergy private actually encourages confessions that eventually end the cycle of abuse.
Some states have been successful in getting rid of the privilege. They include North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and West Virginia. In the remaining states, opposition from religious institutions is described as “intense.”
If only that intensity were directed towards clergy who continually abuse children, generation after generation, with a perpetual “free pass.”