WA’s bill to require clergy to report child abuse dies after Catholics refuse compromise on confessions

By Wilson Criscione

Washington’s mandatory reporter law is one of the weakest when it comes to clergy

Just before Washington’s legislative session ended, in a last-ditch attempt to push through her bill mandating clergy to report child abuse, state Sen. Noel Frame proposed a compromise.

The bill, which would have added clergy to the state’s list of mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect, ran into a sticking point. Catholic lobbyists — and a majority of state Senators — wanted to carve out an exemption for priests if they learned of abuse or neglect through a confession, which is viewed as sacred within the Catholic Church.

Frame’s compromise was essentially this: Clergy would have a duty to warn law enforcement if they believed a child was at imminent risk of abuse, even if their belief was partly or fully informed by a confession. But they wouldn’t have to report the information they were told during the confession itself.

“We felt like this walked an appropriate line of not reporting what one heard in confession, but rather, reporting a belief of harm likely to happen,” Frame said.

Mario Villanueva, executive director of the state lobbying arm of the Catholic Church, the Washington State Catholic Conference, told Frame in an email on April 20 that the compromise was “something we could not accept.”

That effectively killed the bill for the 2023 legislative session, which ended late last month. And it marked one more unsuccessful attempt by Washington legislators in recent decades to add clergy to the mandatory reporter list. Washington is one of just seven states that does not currently list clergy as mandatory reporters, according to a federal agency that tracks the state laws.

State Sen. Noel Frame pushed a bill requiring clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse, saying on the Senate floor in February: “This legislation, I want to acknowledge, is a direct result of incredible investigative reporting by InvestigateWest that uncovered decades of child abuse being covered up by a particular faith community in Washington state.”
Lawmakers in Washington first tried to change that in the early 2000s, in the wake of Catholic sex abuse scandals, but each bill died before becoming law. An InvestigateWest investigation last year into sexual abuse cover ups by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Washington renewed the effort to change the law, with Frame, D-Seattle, and Rep. Amy Walen, D-Kirkland, introducing legislation after reading the reporting.

Both the House and the Senate passed versions of the bill this session with bipartisan support. But the House wanted to go further and remove the loophole for confessions, fearing that clergy might exploit it by deeming any conversation a “confession” in order to avoid alerting authorities of abuse, as Jehovah’s Witnesses elders have done in other states.

Across the country, the Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon church have successfully blocked many other attempts to close confession loopholes, the Associated Press has reported. Earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could refuse to turn over information on child sexual abuse if they learn of the crime during a confessional setting.

Washington, however, would not have been the first state to require clergy to report child abuse or neglect learned during a confession. Six other states, along with Guam, already do so.

During the debate of the bill this year, former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have since soured on the religion testified in support of removing the confession loophole, saying they had known Jehovah’s Witness elders to hide sexual abuse allegations. Elders with each congregation are instructed to report allegations to the religion’s headquarters. But they are told they have no obligation to report allegations to authorities unless it is required by state law.

In the House, the debate surrounding the bill was spirited and often heartfelt. There was bipartisan support for adding clergy to the mandatory list and closing the confessional loophole. In the Senate, Republicans opposed closing the loophole, and a handful of Democrats voted with them on April 17.

Frame expressed disappointment that the bill didn’t pass this session.

“It was a very tough outcome, and I must admit that my feelings are still a bit raw,” Frame said.

Still, she is hopeful that the bill can pass next year. The bill will be returned to the Senate Rules Committee when the 2024 legislative session begins, she said.

“Now that I know which of my colleagues have the strongest concerns about the details of closing the exemption, I’ll have a chance to talk with them over the interim and see if I can answer their questions and get us to a ‘yes,’” Frame told InvestigateWest. “I look forward to trying again next year.”

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The Uncovering Of Catholic Church Abuse In Maryland Is A Reminder Of Louisiana’s Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis

A new report has revealed concerning details about clergy sex abuse in Maryland and the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s failure to protect children from predator priests. The scandal is similar to the reckoning in Louisiana over sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The findings from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office are a reminder that the clergy sex abuse crisis isn’t limited to one state. In Maryland and Louisiana, church leaders failed to report abuse to law enforcement, leading to offenders continuing to spend time with children.

The Maryland report covers 80 years and emphasizes how the church fell short in keeping children safe from harm. “The sheer number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying upon children are astonishing,” it reads. The report details how some priests were allowed to retire quietly after facing abuse allegations. In other cases, victims reported the crime to priests who were abusers themselves. Many of the clergy members accused of abuse died without facing any accountability for their crimes.

A Failure To Report Sex Abuse

While clergy are mandatory reporters in many situations, there are loopholes. In many states, clergy can choose not to report sex abuse in certain circumstances. For example, Louisiana priests don’t have to alert law enforcement about sex abuse allegations if they are revealed during ​​confession. The Maryland report found that even when priests did report sex crimes, law enforcement often failed to investigate appropriately.

It’s not unusual for the government to investigate the Catholic Church. At least 20 states have opened investigations into the church in recent years. Last June, the FBI opened a probe into sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans. The results of the investigation haven’t yet been made public.

Sex Abuse Lookback Laws

Last month, Maryland’s legislature passed the Child Victims Act of 2023, a bill that allows sex abuse survivors to sue their offenders regardless of when the abuse took place. Previously, victims couldn’t sue after they turned 38 years old. So-called “lookback laws” have gained traction nationwide. Last year, Louisiana passed a similar law allowing victims a two-year window to sue for sex abuse regardless of when the offense occurred. These laws recognize the complexity of recovering from child sex abuse. It can take decades for a survivor to come forward; the median age for reporting is 52 years old. Removing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits allows victims to seek justice on their terms.

Unlike Louisiana, Maryland’s law is in effect permanently. Victims can bring forward lawsuits indefinitely, even if a crime occurred decades ago. In contrast, Louisiana victims only have until June 14, 2024, to file lawsuits. And unfortunately, Louisiana’s sex abuse lookback law is being challenged by a lawsuit claiming the law is unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province on May 1. Other state lookback laws have also been challenged, but the courts have ruled in favor of the lookback laws. It’s unclear when the Louisiana Supreme Court will issue its ruling, but it will impact current and future lawsuits. Child sex abuse victims should still consider their legal options while waiting for the Court’s ruling and before time runs out.

The Impact Of Sex Abuse

It’s difficult to overstate how damaging clergy sex abuse can be for victims. Places of worship are supposed to be safe havens, but abusive authority figures can use their power to prey on children. Clergy sex abuse can cause mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Children who are abused might exhibit behavioral problems and struggle with signs of trauma. These adverse effects can follow sex abuse survivors and make it difficult to adjust to adulthood. Some victims report trouble finding employment or staying in school because of their violating experiences.

Louisiana sex abuse lawsuits can provide victims with compensation to help them move forward. While no amount of money can erase the effects of trauma, having funds for therapy, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Additionally, if a powerful institution like the Catholic Church acted negligently and didn’t stop the abuse, they may be found liable in court.

Louisiana lawsuits under the “lookback window” must be filed by next summer, so moving quickly is essential. Herman Herman Katz represents more survivors of sexual abuse in the New Orleans archdiocese bankruptcy than any other firm involved. If you’re considering legal action, let us help. Call our firm at 844-943-7626 or contact us online for a free and confidential case evaluation or more information.

Complete Article HERE!

Judge recuses himself from Archdiocese of New Orleans bankruptcy case


A federal judge has recused himself from an archdiocesan bankruptcy case, following an Associated Press report on his affiliations with and donations to the Catholic Church, and despite a vote of confidence from a federal judicial conference committee.

In an order filed April 28, U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry said he had stepped away from the Archdiocese of New Orleans‘ bankruptcy filing “in order to avoid any possible appearance of personal bias or prejudice.”

The move was a reversal of Guidry’s April 21 announcement that he would remain on the case, due to a formal advisory opinion from the federal Judicial Conference’s Committee on the Codes of Conduct — quoted in proceedings that day by Guidry — that “multiple factors (weighed) against the recusal” under the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.

An April 21 article by AP had pointed to Guidry’s donations to local Catholic charities, totaling close to $50,000 and made from “leftover (campaign) contributions (Guidry) received after serving 10 years as a Louisiana Supreme Court justice.”

AP said some $36,000 of that amount was donated after the archdiocese’s May 2020 Chapter 11 filing, which Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, writing at the time, had described as a “difficult decision” made in response to clergy abuse settlements, “pressing ministerial needs and budget challenges,” and “the unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19,” which had intensified the archdiocese’s “financial hardships.”

Guidry and his wife, as well as Guidry’s election campaign committee, were listed as donors to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO) in 2017, with AP noting that Guidry had “previously provided pro bono services and served as a board member” for the organization between 2000 and 2008, as the archdiocese faced several sex abuse lawsuits. The archdiocese and CCANO settled one case in 2009 for $5.2 million.

But the federal judicial conference committee held that “none of the charities” to which Guidry had contributed a portion of his wind-down campaign funds “has been or is an actual party” in any proceeding before him.

The committee found that the contributions, though “generous and substantial,” had totaled less than 25% of the campaign funds available for donation. Guidry’s role as a CCANO board member had ended 15 years ago, “a significant span of time and over a decade before” the archdiocesan bankruptcy filing,” said the committee.

Several other decisions already entered by Guidry “(did) not uniformly favor any interested party … a concrete indication of impartiality,” wrote the committee.

The committee also noted that “simply participating … in the life of your parish and the Archdiocese of which it is a part cannot amount to a reasonable basis for questioning impartiality in litigation involving the church without effectively forcing judges to choose between their faith and their adjudicative duties.”

More broadly, legal professionals and faith-based organizations often partner to provide equitable legal access to underserved populations. The nonprofit Louisiana Bar Foundation has supported a number of faith-based agencies, providing free or low-cost legal aid, donating several thousand dollars to CCANO, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge and Catholic Charities of North Louisiana, as well as to other outreaches, in 2018. Guidry himself was listed among the 2018 donors to the foundation.

Prior to the AP report’s publication, Guidry had on March 27 dismissed the consolidated appeals of abuse claimant attorney Richard C. Trahant, whom the bankruptcy court had sanctioned for violating the court’s protective order in disclosing confidential information to third parties. A call placed by OSV News to Trahant’s office has not yet been returned.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans declined to comment to OSV News on Guidry’s recusal.

In a May 1 statement, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) said Guidry’s recusal was “the obvious and correct decision,” while calling for “all of Judge Guidry’s cases involving the Archdiocese of New Orleans … (to) be scrutinized carefully and sent back to be re-litigated if necessary,” saying that “the judge has had conflicts of interest for years.”

Guidry’s office referred a call placed by OSV News to the Office of Public Affairs at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, which provided transcripts of April 13 and April 21 status conferences during which Guidry addressed lawyers in the Archdiocese of New Orleans bankruptcy case, as well as a copy of Guidry’s April 28 order announcing his recusal.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Uganda’s LGBTQ Community is Under Renewed Fire

by David Malingha

Uganda is already a tough place to be LGBTQ, but lawmakers want to make it even harder. The east African nation’s parliament has approved a draconian “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” that would extend colonial-era sodomy laws and see violators sentenced to lengthy prison terms or even death. Civil rights groups have condemned the measure amid warnings that it may deter foreign aid and investment in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies if it is signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni.

1. What’s the backdrop?

Homosexuality is banned in more than half of the 54 African nations and frowned upon in many others. That includes Uganda, which inherited its original anti-gay laws from Britain, the former ruling power. Ugandan lawmakers and religious leaders — often encouraged by US evangelical groups — have said LGBTQ practices are contrary to their culture and have no place in Uganda. In February, the archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba, condemned a decision by the Church of England to allow clergy to preside over a blessing for same-sex unions — an issue that has split the Anglican Communion, of which both are part. (Uganda was among those boycotting last year’s conference of the global grouping of Anglican churches.) Museveni signed a previous version of the law that was later struck down by the courts on a technicality. At a public appearance in April, the president described homosexuality as “degeneration” and a threat to procreation, and he subsequently indicated that he’ll sign the new bill.

2. What does the new bill propose?

It states that the nation’s capacity to deal with “emerging internal and external threats to the traditional, heterosexual family” must be enhanced and that Ugandans need protection against activists who “promote” homosexuality. These are some of its main provisions:
• The death sentence may be imposed on those who are found guilty of so-called “aggravated homosexuality.” That categorization includes same-sex intercourse involving someone who is HIV positive or under the age of 18.
• Individuals can be sentenced to life imprisonment if they are convicted of engaging in acts of homosexuality.
• Persons under the age of 18 who are found guilty of homosexuality can be jailed for as long as three years.
• Legal entities that are convicted of “promoting homosexuality” can be fined 1 billion shillings ($267,000).

An earlier version of the bill approved by lawmakers in March sought to punish people for merely identifying as LGBTQ, but that provision was removed on May 2 after Museveni requested changes. The president has 30 days from when the latest draft is submitted to him to sign it into law or ask parliament to make additional amendments.

3. Is this constitutional?

The Constitutional Court struck down similar anti-gay legislation in 2014 that Museveni had signed. But that was on the grounds that lawmakers approved the law without the required quorum, and no determination was made on its constitutionality. Some legal experts have argued that discriminating against people based on their sexual identity or practices could constitute a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression, association and liberty. Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition that fights for LGBTQ rights, and other organizations have indicated that they will challenge the new law in court if the president approves it.

4. How has the bill been received internationally?

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk described the bill as devastating and discriminatory — “probably among the worst of its kind in the world” — and called on the president not to approve it. The World Health Organization cautioned that the legislation risks stunting progress made in reducing the spread of HIV in Uganda. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other civil rights groups warn that homophobic attacks could increase. The US and other Western governments have condemned the measure, while the African Union has refrained from commenting.

5. What’s the potential economic fallout?

The International Monetary Fund has said it expects Uganda’s economy to expand by an average of more than 6% annually over the next five years. However, the new law could make operating in the country awkward and place billions of dollars of investments at risk at a time when companies such as TotalEnergies SE are looking to start producing oil in Uganda. The World Bank and other lenders that have helped to shore up Uganda’s finances may also face pressure from shareholders and rights groups to review their relationship with the country. Almost a fifth of the country’s latest budget was funded using external financing. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son, tweeted that Uganda could do without foreign investors.

Complete Article HERE!