Clergy Already Had to Report Sex Abuse to Law Enforcement in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Clergy Already Had to Report Sex Abuse to Law Enforcement in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New Vatican Law Demands Reporting Abuse

    Pope Francis on Thursday announced a new Vatican law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns to report clergy sexual abuse and any cover ups. While some faithful say this is a major step, others say it's not enough.

    (Published Thursday, May 9, 2019)

    Pope Francis issued a decree Thursday requiring all Catholic priests and nuns worldwide to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-up by their superiors to church authorities.

    His church ruling, however, did not go so far as to require clergy members to go to local law enforcement and report what they know. That omission didn't sit well with critics of the church's response to the global sex abuse scandal.

    In the Philadelphia region, local laws vary by state, but at least two states already have laws in place that go beyond Francis' decree.

    In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, clergy are included in laws governing the report of sexual abuse, and required to report abuse. In Delaware, clergy members are not required by law.

    However, the rules aren't quite that simple.

    Clergy and spiritual leaders of any kind are considered mandated reporters in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Mandated reporters who fail to act could face criminal penalties, including a second-degree felony.

    Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who brought to light hundreds of sex abuse cases with a grand jury report last summer, called the Pope’s move encouraging in a tweet.

    “It is encouraging to see a recognition and some action from the Vatican, but yet: The correct place to report sexual abuse and cover-up is to law enforcement," Shapiro tweeted.

    "The most important thing is to involve law enforcement," Shapiro later said.

    There is an exception for priests told of abuses during confession, a spokesman for Shapiro's office said.

    In New Jersey, all residents are required by law to report child abuse or neglect no matter their profession.

    “Any person having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse shall report the same immediately to Department of Children and Family's Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) by telephone or otherwise,” New Jersey’s statute says.

    The statute in New Jersey doesn’t clearly state any punishment for not reporting alleged abuses to law enforcement outside of saying to failure to report makes that person “disorderly.”

    In Delaware, all people, no matter profession, are considered mandated reporters to child protective services, said Rosie Morales with the State of Delaware Office of the Child Advocate. Individuals can also report to law enforcement.

    The Delaware non-reporting law covers clergy as well as the church they represent, Morales said. Penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation can be levied. The state department of justice would be responsible for determining any civil penalties.

    Communications between priests and people giving confession is considered privileged communication on the level of attorney/client privilege.

    NBC10 also reached out to the state attorneys general in New Jersey and Delaware for comment but neither answered our questions.

    Use these links to report any cases of child abuse or neglect in each state:

    Pennsylvania

    New Jersey

    Delaware

    Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Delaware's rules about mandated reporting.