Nevada Bill Requires Priests to Report Confessed Abuse

Associated Press, carried in Las Vegas Sun
Downloaded March 4, 2003

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Roman Catholic priests are prohibited from disclosing what they hear in confessions. But the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence wants to force them to tell authorities when somebody confesses to child abuse or neglect.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, introduced a bill Monday to remove an exemption in the law shielding priests from reporting the cases. She said the 160-member coalition asked for the bill.

This is about "keeping our kids safe," said Jodi Tyson, director of the Las Vegas-based coalition.

Tyson added SB223 is needed "to level the playing field," because other people - lawyers, doctors, social workers, employees of child care centers - must report cases of child abuse and neglect.

The bill comes in the state's first legislative session since several priest sex abuse cases rocked the Catholic Church, including the case of a former Henderson priest, Mark Roberts, who pleaded guilty in January to open and gross lewdness and four counts of child abuse and neglect.

The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas opposed the bill, saying it would violate the sacred relationship between believers and their God.

"Confession is confession," said Bede Wevita, director of communications for the diocese.

"There's no way we can reveal a confessional secret. It's a very sacred thing that no law can take away, from the time Christ instituted the sacrament - and it will remain the same."

Brother Matthew Cunningham, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Reno, said priests throughout church history have been executed for refusing to reveal what took place in the confessional.

Current Nevada law requires members of the clergy to report child abuse unless they have "acquired the knowledge of the abuse or neglect from the offender during a confession."

SB223, referred to the Judiciary Committee, would apply to confessions made after Oct. 1 this year. Failure to make the reports would be a misdemeanor, and the reports would have to identify the child and the alleged offender.

Cunningham said he would be surprised if the bill passes, and that the church would challenge the bill in court.

But contemporary constitutional law would support the state, said Ted Jelen, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"If it goes to court, the diocese is in trouble," Jelen added.

Legislatures in Arizona, Iowa, Maryland, Washington, Florida and West Virginia are considering similar bills

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.