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Unholy Clergy: Amending State Child Abuse Reporting Statutes to Include Clergy Members as Mandatory Reporters in Child Sexual Abuse Cases


  • Rachel Goldenberg


Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Statutes date back as early as the 1960s. These statutes require certain individuals to report any instance of suspected child abuse that is made known to them. Individuals who are mandated reporters include, but are not limited to, physicians, therapists, and schoolteachers. Over the past decade, with the eruption of sexual abuse in the Catholic, Jewish, and Mormon communities, special attention has been given to reporting statutes in determining who qualifies as mandated reporters. The clergy-penitent privilege, which exempts clergy members from having to report instances of abuse made known to them in their religious or otherwise professional capacity, remains one of the last reporting statutory exemptions today. This Note advocates for the abrogation of the clergy-penitent privilege in cases of child sexual abuse. In religious communities, where religious personnel are often the first to be made aware of child abuse, clergy members should be required to report instances of child sexual abuse in an effort to better protect children.

Keypoints for the Family Court Community

  • Currently every state in the United States has enacted some form of child abuse reporting statutes.
  • There is a lack of uniformity among state reporting statutes over who is required to be a mandated reporter of abuse. Nearly half of the states in the U.S. carve out a religious exemption for clergy-members from having to report instances of child abuse.
  • This exemption creates a discrepancy between religious personnel and other individuals who are mandated reporters.