Most moms and dads would never allow their child to be anywhere near a known pedophile and they would do everything in their power to protect them.

As a counselor, I was required to tell my clients that I am a mandated reporter and if they revealed to me that they were harming another person – especially a child, I am required by law to report it to the authorities.

Doctors and emergency room nurses, teachers, social workers, coaches, even veternarians have a duty to report abuse in Arizona.

But AZ law allows a big exception for members of the clergy – it’s called Clergy Penitent Privilege.

Several years ago a Bisbee Border Patrol Agent confided in his Mormon bishop that he was sexually abusing his 5 yr old daughter.  But because of the exception for clergy, this bishop did not report the man to the police.  He didn’t have to.

As a result, the man continued to sexually assault his little girl over a period of years.  During that time the family attended church and Sunday school with people who knew but refused to do anything about it.

Later there was a second bishop at the LDS church in Bisbee who knew of – and also kept the hideous secret.

…and then the man and his wife had another baby.  He actually made videos of himself raping his 1 year old baby girl and posted the videos on porn websites.

He was eventually discovered by Interpol and arrested.  He reportedly killed himself in jail.

Can you imagine how this story would have been different if the first Bishop would have reported the abuse to police when he learned of the first daughter’s assault?

When I heard about this story, I couldn’t believe it….I learned more about the issue and last year introduced a bill to change it.

Shortly afterward, I received this letter from Father James Connell in Milwaukee…. And I’d like to read his remarks into the record:

Hello, Senator Steele,
I am a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, an advocate for victims/survivors of sexual abuse, and a canon lawyer (regards Catholic Church law). I wish to speak for myself and not as an official of the Catholic Church.
I support your bill that would recognize clergy of all faiths as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect, and that would repeal the State’s clergy-penitent privilege in those matters. Indeed, the truth about the abuse or neglect of a child or a minor that is learned by a priest or any clergy person in a confession or in any confidential setting should be reported to the civil authorities.
I realize that the Catholic Bishops and other Catholic Church leaders in Arizona probably will oppose the bill, based on the Church’s First Amendment freedom of religion right. I, however, disagree.
Four very important teachings of the Catholic Church, presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that was promulgated by then-Pope John Paul II in 1992, support my position.
First, within the context of the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue (You shall not kill), “Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm.” (CCC 2266)
Second, also within the context of the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue, “… the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime … Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally, punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.” (CCC 2266)
Third, “The Eighth Commandment of the Decalogue (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor) forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others … Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness …” (CCC 2464) Indeed, hiding truth to which individual people or the society at-large have a right is a form of bearing false witness to your neighbor.
Fourth, “Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven.” (CCC 2487)
Therefore, any law that hides criminals and endangers potential victims violates the basic moral principles of human life found in the Fifth and Eighth Commandments, and that law must be repealed or amended.

Moreover, I join those persons who hold that children have a fundamental right to protection from abuse or neglect. Consequently, in my opinion, no institution in our society, not even a recognized religion, has a significant advantage over governments’ compelling interest and responsibility to protect its children from harm by abuse or neglect. So, I say, when such a compelling government interest is pursued by the least restrictive means, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would not be violated.
As a result, governments should intervene such that, while perhaps frustrating the free exercise of religion for some people, the greater good of protecting children from abuse or neglect would be enhanced for the common good of all people. Our society should protect children, rather than protecting culprits.
After all, in most States doctors are mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect and people still trust their doctors’ respect for confidentiality. So, why wouldn’t people also trust their clergy’s respect for confidentiality, even though the clergy are mandatory reporters in the same sense as are doctors?
Most parents would never allow a child to be near a person who is known to be a sexual abuser or even suspected of being one. Yet, many leaders of the Catholic Church, and perhaps many other institutions as well, have not hesitated to do so. And this is a major factor in the Catholic Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis and scandal: the behavior of the bishops differs from the common-sense behavior of most parents with the result that many people have been harmed.
Finally, in 2018, I wrote a commentary in which I call for the Catholic Church to change its ‘seal of confession’ law. This two-page article is titled: Now is the time to modify the Catholic Church’s ‘seal of confession’. Some argue that the ‘seal of confession’ is a divine law and thus cannot be changed. I disagree, noting that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) informs us that for centuries the Church assigned public penances in matters of serious sin (CCC 1447). Centuries of public penances hardly endorses a ‘seal of confession’.
Consequently, all Catholics in Arizona should support this bill.
Rev. James E. Connell,
A priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Today’s hearing is crucial in letting the world know that Arizona law allows churches to keep child abuse a secret. Thus, allowing pedophiles and others who would harm children, free reign to continue their horrific behavior.

I ask you – no….I beg you to vote yes – to require members of the clergy to report child abuse.  The issue is clear – you either act to protect the children – or protect the monsters who hurt them.

Senator Victoria Steele