A bill filed by a lawmaker would hold priests, ministers, rabbis and other religious leaders accountable for failing to report incidents of abuse or neglect of a minor.
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, wants to extend a law that applies to school teachers and staff, doctors, child care providers and police officers to religious institutions.
Failure to report instances of abuse, sexual or otherwise, is a misdemeanor under Alaska law.
Lynn said the measure would apply to religious leaders but not members of their congregations. It would exempt any information acquired through a confession or “penitential communication.”
Lynn, a Catholic who attends St. Benedict’s Church in Anchorage, said media reports of clerical sexual abuse prompted his bill.
“Whenever anything gets in the headlines or on the evening news, people become aware of it and expect responsible legislators to address the issue, and that’s what I’m trying to do as a responsible legislator,” Lynn said.
An Anchorage high school principal recently alleged a former priest at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church abused him when he was 18. Pat Podvin said the Rev. Francis Murphy, who later transferred from Anchorage to the Boston area, sexually abused him at a Girdwood residence more than 20 years ago. Murphy was named last week as one of several Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse who were allowed to move to other states and continue their work.
Retired Catholic Archbishop Francis Hurley last week apologized for not helping Podvin after he reported the abuse. Hurley also admitted that there have been other allegations of abuse within the “last few years” but no one was charged with a crime.
Bob Flint, executive director for the Alaska Catholic Conference, said he believes the conference will support the measure. The conference includes Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. Flint pointed out that the measure would not have applied in the Podvin case because the victim was not a minor.
The Rev. Greg Lindsay of Northern Light United Church in Juneau said he supports the measure.
“I think that because children get the short end of the stick a lot of the time, they should be protected before anyone else,” said Lindsay, who heads a Presbyterian-Methodist congregation.