Virginia law doesn’t require members of the clergy to report suspected child abuse. Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine wants to change that.
Kaine, troubled by reports of child sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests, said Tuesday that he would ask state legislators to add the clergy to those groups required to report suspected abuse.
Among the groups now listed are teachers, doctors, probation officers, social workers, daycare providers, mental-health professionals and police officers.
Kaine, who is Catholic, said he consulted Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond before proposing the requirement.
Later, Sullivan issued a statement, saying he supported the proposal.
He noted that Kaine would exempt priests who obtained information during a confession, as well as any member of the clergy who couldn’t disclose information because religious doctrine required it to be held in confidence.
“With that respect for sacramental confessions, … I support the proposal that clergy not be exempted,” the bishop said in the statement.
“We are no different than anyone else. I see no reason for anyone dealing with children to be exempted.”
The Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, secretary to the bishop, later said diocese regulations required that suspicion of child sex abuse be reported by any employee or volunteer and that the diocese would then report it to officials.
“I guess what this does – it requires the bishop to do what he already said he was going to do,” Apuzzo said.
The Catholic Diocese of Richmond covers the southern part of Virginia, including Hampton Roads.
Kaine said that he didn’t know which legislator would sponsor the bill but that he expected many to sign on to it.
“The fact that those good members of religious orders now have to do their work under some cloud of suspicion – with people looking at them with a question in their eyes – is a terrible injustice to them,” Kaine said.
A recent article in USA Today indicated that since January, four states had passed laws that add clergy to the list of groups required to report suspected child abuse.
Eleven states already had listed clergy, while 18 required everyone to report.
In Virginia, the penalty for not reporting is a $500 civil fine for a first offense, Kaine said.