© 2024 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bill requiring clergy to report sacramental confessions of child abuse moves to Senate

In this Dec. 1, 2012 photo, a statue with a crucifix and a stained glass window is seen inside a Catholic Church in New Orleans. Catholic groups are decrying a recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision that reaches into the most sanctified of Catholic places, the confessional booth. The high court has revived a sex abuse lawsuit in which parents are suing a priest and a local diocese for not reporting the alleged abuse when the teenager told the priest about it, and the ruling could have a priest asked to testify about what was said in a private confession. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights says the ruling leaves the priest choosing between prison and excommunication, in a case that has grabbed attention in heavily Catholic south Louisiana. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2012 photo, a statue with a crucifix and a stained glass window is seen inside a Catholic Church in New Orleans.

When religious clergy were added to the state's list of mandatory reporters, the law exempted the reporting of abuse disclosed during penitential communication.

Now, a measure in this year’s Legislature would require clergy to report child abuse or suspected abuse, even if the information is received during a sacramental confession.

House Bill 350 passed through the state House of Representatives this week, and is on its way to the Senate.

Rep. Linda Ichiyama, who collaborated with Sen. Karl Rhoads on the measure, said HB350 fills a "loophole."

"We both felt like this was a big loophole in our law that potentially could allow perpetrators of child abuse to continue," Ichiyama said in an interview last month. "I think it's important to clarify that the law is not saying that every penitential communication needs to be disclosed. It's only those where there is a reasonable foreseeable chance that the abuse will happen in the future."

The law would require clergy to report to authorities when substantial risk of abuse or neglect occurred that "is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity, may occur in the reasonably foreseeable future," according to the measure.

"We're really not trying to go after folks who are confessing to past acts that happened long time ago that do not have a reasonable chance of reoccurring," Ichiyama said.

Hawaiʻi's mandatory reporters list nearly a dozen professions, including those in the health care and educational fields, those involved in public and private sports, commercial film or image processors, and clergy.

"As a person of faith, I stand candidly that I've been around some outstanding pastors, and a measure of this magnitude will definitely help to bring trust and faith back toward members of the clergy and our churches," Rep. John Mizuno of Oʻahu said Tuesday. "But most importantly, this bill will protect our keiki."

During a floor speech Tuesday, Rep. Kanani Souza of Oʻahu said the measure doesn't go far enough, but is a "first step."

"I understand the sanctity of penitential communications, however, protecting our children should supersede this practice and no exceptions should exist," Souza said.

"This bill requires that the clergy need only report child abuse or neglect that may occur in the reasonably foreseeable future if it is especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity, which means a conscious less or pitiless crime, which is unnecessarily torturous to a victim," Souza continued.

HB350 is similar to bills that have been proposed in other states, including Delaware and Vermont.

A second draft of the bill passed a third reading on Tuesday, with all members but Rep. Diamond Garcia of Oʻahu in support. Last month, during the bill's second hearing, Garcia said this would go against the separation of church and state.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
Related Stories