The law regarding mandatory reporting of abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse is confusing to many in Denver, Arapahoe, and Jefferson County. The law, “Persons required to report child abuse or neglect” – C.R.S. 19-3-304, outlines people who are required by law to report incidents or confessions of sexual abuse or neglect towards children to law enforcement. But, does this law apply to priests, pastors, rabbi, or other clergy members? In Colorado, clergy members are not required to report confessions of abuse. And, this is a good thing. How can people dealing with sin hope to overcome their struggle if they cannot get help from their pastor's counseling or priest's guidance? Let's look at this law to better understand.
Mandatory Reporting Law in Colorado
The law states that a person (specified as doctors, nurses, dentists, police officers, teachers, coaches, therapists, counselors, etc.) “who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or who has observed the child being subjected to circumstances or conditions that would reasonably result in abuse or neglect shall immediately upon receiving such information report or cause a report to be made of such fact to the county department, the local law enforcement agency, or through the child abuse reporting hotline system.”
The Law Regarding Clergy and Mandatory Reporters
While “clergy member” is listed in the people who are required to report abuse in Adams, Larimer, and Douglas County, immediately below their listing is the following:
“The provisions of this paragraph (aa) shall not apply to a person who acquires reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect during a communication about which the person may not be examined as a witness pursuant to section C.R.S. 19-3-304 (1) (c), C.R.S., unless the person also acquires such reasonable cause from a source other than such a communication.”
In other words, when a confession is made to a clergy member during counseling, or told to a pastor when asking for spiritual advice, this confidential confession is protected by law. And, why should it not be? Pastors are to provide advice and counsel to members of their congregation. If a member is struggling with a sexual sin, he or she should be free to discuss their struggle with their spiritual guide without fear of being arrested. In this way, true rehabilitation can be facilitated. Unfortunately, governmental websites and other sources of information often ignore this law regarding confidentiality.[pullquote align=”center” textalign=”center” width=”90%”]When a confession is made to a clergy member during counseling, this confidential confession is protected by law.[/pullquote]
When Do Pastors and Clergy Have to Report Abuse?
People often struggle with the specifics of the law and when they are required to report. Let's look at the law once again to be more specific. A clergy member is required to report if they acquire “reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or who has observed the child being subjected to circumstances or conditions that would reasonably result in abuse or neglect.” Put simply, a clergy member is required to report child abuse or neglect if they:
- Observe the act of child abuse
- Hear from a child about an act of abuse (to themselves or another child)
- See a child who obviously is the victim of abuse (unexplained bruises)
- Hear from someone (in a way other than during a confidential communication) about an act of child abuse
How Does the Mandatory Reporting Law Affect You?
People tend to agree to laws that “protect children” without thinking about the personal impact on their own lives. For example, now that you know about this law, will you take your child to the doctor if they have bruises from playing outside? Would you and your spouse go in for marriage counseling (which would greatly benefit your marriage and family life), if you were concerned your husband was going to be arrested and charged with a serious crime? You probably answered “no” to these questions. People can't get the help they need when mandatory reporting laws are overly broad. A person struggling with a sexual sin can't get the help they need, and children are taken away from their families unnecessarily. You might think this law is reasonable, but as an experienced criminal defense attorney, I can attest to its overuse. I recently worked on a case where a young girl made up a story and ultimately, caused the entire family to be split. Her siblings are in foster care. Why is this family now destroyed? Because the Department of Human Services (Social Services) always believe children, no matter if the evidence doesn't support their stories. Human Services would rather be “safe than sorry” (i.e. protect their own careers, rather than protect families). In the process, they destroy families and take children away from their parents.
Why You Need a Lawyer for Sex Crime Cases
If you have been contacted by the police after making a confession to a clergy member or counselor, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. You need an advocate to fight on your behalf. You need someone who has compassion and will stand by your side to fight the allegations against you. Don't stand alone in the courtroom – work with a criminal lawyer who knows exactly what is needed to fight. Here at the O'Malley Law Office, we fight to win.Request a Free Consultation