House committee gets rid of ‘confession’ exception in clergy reporting bill

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington has one of the nation’s weakest mandatory reporter laws in the country.

As of now, Washington clergy members are not listed as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect. 

On Friday, a bill was discussed in committee to change this.

The bill, if passed into law, would require clergy members to report child abuse or neglect, unless the information was obtained in a setting like confession. 

An amendment was brought up today to actually remove this exception.

Some committee members said they worry getting rid of it could be a first amendment violation, while others say keeping it will continue to keep the abuse hidden.

The bill in it’s current form would allow for an exception– to report abuse if a clergy member found out about it during confession. 

Right now they face no legal consequences if they don’t report suspected abuse, on the other hand– they are currently protected legally if they do give out information said during confession.

The amendment removes the exception to the mandated reporting requirement for members of the clergy for confessions.

That amendment to drop this exception had clear support and opposition.

“We want to remove the privilege so that we can continue to protect the children, but also protect the first amendment rights,” said Rep. Jamila Taylor. 

Lawmakers like, Rep. Alicia Rule, in favor of dropping that requirement, say they were inspired by their own experiences as church leaders.

“We heard the message from our elders that we needed to circle the wagons not to report the abuse, and the trouble is that kind of message hides abuse and it doesn’t get children the help that they need,” Rule said.

But other lawmakers say they worry that dropping the requirement, could open doors, making confession less confidential, and prevent people from trusting the church. 

“I’m worried about this amendment…we’re saying that ok, so we’ve gone into a confidential setting, which is, you know, a confession with clergy, but it’s only kind of confidential and we lose confidentiality,” said Rep. Tom Dent.

The amendment did pass and the bill will move forward with it in place. Next, this bill will head to the house floor. 

RELATED: WA lawmakers propose bill requiring clergy to report child abuse, citing InvestigateWest reporting