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January 7, 2004
Senator prods house on abuse bill
Measure would require clergy to report sex cases
By Brian C. Mooney, Globe Staff, 2/19/2002
tate Senator Cheryl A. Jacques today will try to turn up the heat on the Massachusetts House to enact a new law requiring clergy to report cases of sexual abuse to state authorities.
Jacques, a Needham Democrat, and several supporters of the bill have scheduled a press conference for noon at the State House calling on the House to take up the bill, which passed the Senate last month. Jacques is a cosponsor of the legislation, which gained momentum after Boston Globe Spotlight Team reports of widespread molestation by priests resulted in Cardinal Bernard F. Law's decision to turn over the names of dozens of priests to law enforcement authorities.
House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, however, said the press conference is unnecessary.
"That bill is going to come out, I'd say, almost any day now," Finneran said. "I don't think there's going to be any problem or delay . . . It'll probably look like [Jacques] had something to do with it. She'll be thrilled."
The bill would add clergy to the list of "mandated reporters" of incidences of child abuse to the state Department of Social Services. If enacted, the law would be retroactive and require not just information about the identity of the alleged molester, but also details about the victim, and the date and details of the incident. DSS can then refer cases to authorities for possible prosecution.
Jacques said today's event is designed to reflect the urgency of acting on the bill, along with another bill, also approved by the Senate, which would create a "bill of rights" for victims of sexual assault.
"There's a window of opportunity right now for the House to act," said Jacques. "The budget will be coming up in the House soon, and that will consume the membership."
The second piece of legislation, passed in the Senate about two months ago, would extend the rape shield law protections of criminal cases to victims who file civil suits. It would also create a one-year extension of the statute of limitations from the time a positive match is discovered involving DNA genetic material of suspects.
"There's also a compelling reason to enact the clergy reporting bill," she said. "We are hearing now from district attorneys that while the clergy are now reporting, for the first time, the names of clergy suspected of child abuse, in most cases, that's all they're reporting, and it's stymieing prosecutors . . . The bill has very specific language about what needs to reported," she said, including the name of the alleged victim and details of the incident.
The bill also would provide an exception for "legally privileged communication" between a member of the clergy and a congregation member, such as in the case of Catholic confession.
Under current state law, "mandated reporters" include physicians or other medical professionals, teachers, guidance counselors, day care and social workers, psychiatrists, police and firefighters, foster parents, and drug or alcoholism counselors.
Finneran said he is unaware of any controversy in the House surrounding the clergy reporting bill.
"I haven't heard objections from either the spiritual or the secular side of society," he said.
The Mattapan Democrat said he spoke Thursday to Representative Paul Kujawski, Democrat of Webster and chairman of the House committee on steering, policy, and scheduling, about a date to bring the bill to the floor of the House. Action could come this week but more likely next week when the House returns to formal sessions, Finneran said.
This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 2/19/2002.