By Representative DeWeese

LANSING, MI — The recent scandal in the Catholic Church has many people of faith wondering how such horrible crimes against children could have been hidden for so long.  Certainly, these incidents were the actions of a few fallen clergymen who unscrupulously hid their evil behind the good name of their religion.  Yet, like many Catholics, I am shocked and amazed by the extent to which many of these crimes were hidden from public view.

For that reason, I recently introduced legislation requiring

members of the clergy to report people suspected of child abuse to the state Family Independence Agency.

Under current state law, psychologists, social workers, doctors, teachers and other professions dealing with children are required to report abuse cases.  House Bill 5984 adds members of the clergy, including religious hierarchy, to this list. 

Religious officials hold a valuable position of trust in our society.  We must hold them responsible for their actions. My legislation will require members of the clergy to report any suspected abuse.  As in any other suspected criminal case, covering up a crime should be a crime in and of itself.

My bill also creates a mechanism to better handle complaints of abuse by teachers, teacher’s aides and now members of the clergy.  Under current law, teachers and clergy report to the Family Independence Agency (FIA), but the FIA only conducts investigations if the abuse is done by a parent or guardian to a child under that parent or guardian’s care.

House Bill 5984 will create a fast track for alerting law enforcement of the need for an investigation. FIA will do a quick screen to determine if a parent or guardian

conducted the suspected abuse. 
If the case does not fall under their jurisdiction, it will be immediately transferred to the appropriate law enforcement officials.

This is important, because there shouldn’t be any wrong door for reporting child abuse and neglect.  We must have one place where anyone can go to report suspected child abuse.

It is unfortunate that we need to take this step, but our children need all the protection we can provide.  This legislation sends a clear message to the religious leaders responsible for the current scandal: we will not tolerate child abuse, nor will we accept attempts to hide it. 

We are fortunate to have so many dedicated, honorable and wise people spreading the uplifting messages of faith across our great state.  One of the glories of Michigan is its religious tolerance and diversity.  While we condemn the circumstances that require this legislation, let us hope it will help restore the trust of state residents in the clergy of every faith.

The House Family and Children Services Committee last week unanimously approved House Bill 5984. The measure goes before the full House of Representatives  for consideration.

Printed in Volume 1 Issue 8