Local legislator introduces bill to require ministers, other religious leaders to report suspicions of child abuse

photo by: AP File Photo

Kansas state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, talks to reporters Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka.

Story updated at 2:16 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023:

A Douglas County legislator has filed a bill that would require priests and other ministers to report any suspected child abuse to state authorities.

Sen Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, filed Senate Bill 87 this week that would add “duly ordained ministers” to the list of professionals who are mandated reporters of child abuse in the state.

Holland has introduced similar bills in previous sessions, but said the issue should take on new urgency following a Kansas Bureau of Investigation report earlier this month that reviewed 50 years of abuse allegations in the Catholic Church. The report found 188 clergy suspected of committing crimes during that 50-year period.

“When the report came out, it was very sobering,” Holland said in an interview with the Journal-World.

Holland said the issue is not confined to the Catholic Church.

“It is not one particular faith,” Holland said. “It has happened in different faiths. The point is it is pervasive.”

Holland said this year’s bill is stronger than some past bills he’s introduced, as it does not provide an exception to the reporting requirement if the minister suspects child abuse due to information learned through a religious confession or other types of “penitential communication.”

In the past, Holland has removed that provision to gain some bipartisan support for the measure. But he said he thought the bill should not exempt information obtained through a confessional, which many churches view to be sacred and private between a parishioner and a minister. Holland said some religious denominations have pushed back on past efforts to require ministers to be mandated reporters.

“This is going to get emotional on a number of fronts,” Holland said.

He said an exception for confessional information would make the reporting requirements significantly weaker and might create a loophole in the law.

“My concern is that if you have an exception, that basically will become the de facto operating procedure whenever something happens in a house of worship,” Holland said. “They can basically stonewall it and never have to discuss it with investigators. That to me is totally unacceptable.”

If the bill is approved, ministers and religious leaders would be required to report any suspicion of child abuse — including physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse — to the Kansas Department for Children and Families, or to a law enforcement agency if DCF is not immediately available to accept the report.

Kansas has long had a law designating certain professionals as mandatory reporters of child abuse. Those professions currently include medical professionals, licensed psychologists and social workers, various counselors, teachers and other school staff, firefighters, law enforcement officers and others.

As is the case with all mandated reporters, ministers would be subject to a class B misdemeanor conviction if they knowingly failed to make a report.

Currently, Holland is the sole sponsor for the bill, which has been assigned to the Senate’s judiciary committee. Holland said the bill came to passage in the 2019-2020 legislative session, which got cut short by the pandemic. Holland said he introduced the bill again the following year, but it did not get a hearing. He said he’s hopeful the bill can gain some bipartisan support following the KBI’s recent report.

“With the release of their report, it is clear this is a significant problem,” Holland said.

Editor’s note: This article was corrected to report the bill does not provide an exception based on whether the minister learned of child abuse through a confessional or other similar penitential communication.


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