By now, you may have seen at least one news article about a clergyman who has been charged with a misdemeanor crime for allegedly failing to report child abuse to the authorities, in his capacity as a mandated reporter. Law enforcement is on heightened alert regarding these issues, in part due to the Sandusky scandal, and we can expect to see an increase in criminal prosecutions of mandated reporters for the willful failure to report suspected child abuse.
The reporting requirements under the Child Protective Services Act of Pennsylvania for various daycare workers, teachers, pastors, and other people who work with youth to report suspected child abuse are quite tricky. They are particularly difficult to understand relative to clergy, to whom a very narrow exception to the reporting requirement can apply in certain circumstances where the information they receive is in the context of a private counseling meeting. This exception does not apply to most other professionals.
Neither a clergyman nor anyone else who is a mandated reporter has any duty whatsoever to independently investigate the truth or falsehood of allegations of abuse of a minor (i.e. someone who is 17 years of age or younger). Rather, the obligation is to make a report to the ChildLine when the mandated reporter has “reasonable cause” to suspect child abuse, meaning that some but not all suspicions will give rise to the reporting obligation. It should be noted that “child abuse” is broadly defined, and could be found to have occurred where an 18 year old engages in consensual sex with his 16 year old girlfriend.
It behooves all clergy who receive any information which even suggests that a child under his or her purview is being or has been abused to immediately contact an attorney without any delay, to determine what obligations may apply, given the specific circumstances of the situation. If you have any questions about the mandated reporting requirements, please contact one of our family or criminal defense law attorneys at Menges & McLaughlin, P.C. today.