Catholic officials in the nation’s capital reacted with calm on Wednesday to a suggestion from the Attorney General of the District of Colombia to make clergy mandatory reporters on child sexual abuse, saying such a requirement already had been church policy.
The Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement that it was “appreciative of the District of Colombia Attorney General’s Office for allowing it to share its views and policies and procedures in protecting young people as it worked to develop this proposal.”
The statement noted that the archdiocese was carefully reviewing the proposed legislation, adding that they have required its “priests, religious, employees and all volunteers” to “serve as mandated reporters” and have supported similar policies for all private and public employees.
“Teachers, health professionals, and clergy have a special responsibility to protect children,” said Karl Racine, the D.C. Attorney General, in a statement. “Too often abuse goes unreported and is covered up.”
The new legislation will require special training for such individuals to identify potential cases of abuse.
While the law to requires all adults in the nation’s capital report suspected abuse, Racine’s bill includes fines of up to $2,500 and 180 days in jail for members of certain professions who fail to report such cases.
According to the Children’s Bureau, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, clergy are mandated reporters in 28 states.
Racine’s bill comes at a time when Catholics in the nation’s capital are awaiting news of who will replace Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the next archbishop of Washington.
Wuerl resigned in October following scrutiny of his handling of sex abuse cases during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 1990s, and was named apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until his successor is named.
Racine’s 11-page legislation will require the support of the district’s mayor before it is enacted into law.