Key point 4-08. Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.
Failure to Report Child Abuse
A federal appeals court ruled that a church was not liable for a minister's acts of child molestation on the basis of a failure to comply with the state child abuse reporting law since ministers were not mandatory reporters at the time of the abuse and the church had no reason to suspect that the minister was engaging in such acts.
An adult male (Randy) sued a church and diocese claiming that he had been sexually molested by a priest when he was a 16-year-old student attending a church school. Randy claimed that the priest sexually abused him on multiple occasions, often after serving him alcohol, and that he repressed the shame associated with the abuse and discovered the link between the abuse and his psychological injuries only years later, when a psychologist explained that his emotional problems stemmed from the experiences with the priest. Randy asserted that the diocese had a legal duty to report child abuse, and that its failure to do so constituted negligence. A state appeals court disagreed. It acknowledged that "clergy" have been mandatory reporters under the Pennsylvania child abuse reporting law since 1995, but concluded that clergy were not mandatory reporters prior to 1995, and that the diocese had no reason to suspect that the priest had molested Randy and so there was nothing to report even if a duty did exist. As a result, the court dismissed Randy's claim. Hartz v. Diocese of Greensburg, 94 Fed.Appx. 52 (3rd Cir. 2004).