TOPEKA (KSNT) — A new bill in the Kansas legislature would require ordained ministers and clergy to report child sexual abuse.
This comes after a state investigation found 188 clergy members suspected of child sexual abuse in Catholic churches.
Senator Tom Holland, D – Baldwin City, introduced Senate Bill 87 on Tuesday. Under the proposal, ordained ministers and clergy would be required to report suspected harms against children as a result of physical, mental, or emotional abuse, neglect or sexual abuse.
Currently, mandated reporters include individuals providing medical care; mental health providers; teachers, school administrators and other employees of educational institutions; child care providers; and firefighters, law enforcement officers and first responders.
“Our children are taught to trust in certain authority figures in their communities, because adults are supposed to speak up for children when they’ve been harmed,” Holland said. “Far too many of our faith leaders – those who are foundational to the development of our sense of self and spirituality – have violated that trust, and Kansas kids have suffered as a result of their silence.”
According to Holland, a key component of the bill is that it does not provide for a penitential communication privilege, meaning that ministers and clergy are not exempt from reporting suspected abuse that they find out about through private conversations, such as a confession.
This comes just weeks after a report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation found that over 400 Kansas children have been abused by Catholic clergy since 1950. The KBI initiated 125 criminal cases and identified 188 clergy members suspected of committing crimes such as rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated indecent liberties with a child. No charges have been filed as a result of the 30 charging affidavits under consideration by prosecutors across the state.
“The Kansas Legislature has a duty to protect Kansas children but in past years has failed to act to address this horror,” Holland said. “Senate Bill 87, if enacted, would give Kansas law enforcement a tool critically needed to hold pedophile ministers and clergy accountable.”
Holland previously introduced similar legislation during the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions, after he said a Lawrence church’s leaders failed to respond to – and actively discouraged reporting of – possible sexual abuse of a child. In 2022, Holland introduced a constitutional amendment with the same goal, but debate on the measure was blocked by a vote of 10-24.
Senate Bill 87 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, where it awaits a hearing.