Report on bill that passed the House but got stuck in the senate
HB 92 HELPS POTECT CHILDREN
AND THE FAITH COMMUNITY
Representative District 31
The Alaska House acted prudently last session to help protect children from sexual abuse by mandating clergy to report abuse by other clergy or other persons, with the passage of my House Bill 92. The bill now awaits action in the State Senate. Your help is requested.
HB92 is a good bill, but not a perfect solution to the problem it addresses. No bill is a perfect bill because legislators who draft, amend, and pass bills aren’t perfect. But if we wait for perfect bills nothing would ever pass the legislature, and my bill is no exception. The time has arrived for the legislators to act, and to leave perfection to God.
Some good people have expressed concern about potential “unintended consequences” if HB 92 becomes law. Concerns involve issues of church-state separation, this time from the clergy rather than the government. Some legislators have expressed concern my bill could make clergy a “branch of the DFYS.” Granted, the DFYS has less than a sterling historical record on appropriate and timely responses to child abuse issues. However teachers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals, already are mandated reporters child abuse – and clergy should be no exception. The question isn’t a matter of church-state separation; it’s a matter of separation of children from the very small number of sexual predators within the clergy and within congregations. The “unintended consequences” we need most to fear is a continuing free pass for clergy not to report crimes against children.
Spiritual counseling is an integral part of the clergy’s job description. Prayer and counseling is viewed by many clergy to be the first response (and among the more naïve perhaps the only response) to incidents of known or suspected sexual child abuse. I too believe in the power of prayer - I just believe the many benefits of prayer can be as well attained when the sinner is behind bars, and no longer a danger to children.
Some clergy worry some of the perverts in their congregation – or within their own ranks – would be reluctant to seek counseling if they knew their pastor was required to notify the police. That’s a valid concern, but begs the question. The issue isn’t who gets counseling, it’s who helps protect children.
Most churches in the Protestant community tend to be independent of each other. Most often clergy are selected by the membership, and receive secular marching orders from their congregation. In these situations, HB92 could require clergy to report their own misbehaviors and perversions (not likely). But my bill would help give pastors the legal backbone needed to report actual or suspected abuse within their congregation with less fear of reprisal from the church board that hires them - because they did what the law requires.
So far there’s been little opposition of HB92 from churches organized in a hierarchy, meaning a clear “chain of command.” In other words, churches in which clergy reports to supervisory clergy. This would include the Orthodox, and Episcopal churches, and my own Catholic Church. In fact, Alaska Catholic Church leadership, which has suffered most of the horrific headlines on this subject, has been very helpful in the drafting and support of my bill. Likewise, my HB92 has benefited from considerable support from my Democrat colleagues, because nothing unites good people of all political persuasions more than protecting children.
If we wait for a perfect bill to protect children from child abuse, many many children will continue to be abused without legal consequence, when it could have been prevented. If that were to happen, shame on any of us who demonstrated more caution than faith
Something precious is lost if parents become reluctant to send their children to church for fear of sexual abuse by clergy or someone in the congregation. In addition to helping safeguard children, HB92 will help protect the reputation of our churches as trustworthy institutions. Of all the issues facing Alaska, nothing is more critical than helping to protect children and the good name of our faith community. Please contact your senators and urge that HB92 go through the committee process, and be brought to the Senate floor for a vote, with all deliberate speed.