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N4T Investigators: Clergy privilege bill fails

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TUCSON (KVOA) - A bill that would make it mandatory for clergy in Arizona to report child abuse to law enforcement has failed.

Senator Victoria Steele of Tucson sponsored SB 1008 after learning some children in Cochise County were being abused by their father.

The church clergy were aware of this abuse and never reported it to law enforcement citing clergy privilege.

This is the second time Sen. Steele has introduced this bill.

Both times it's failed even though there appears to be a lot of support for it.
She told News 4 Tucson Investigators, "I'm not giving up, and again I am incredibly disappointed."

Sen. Steele said, Sen. Nancy Barto. who heads the Health and Humans Services committee told her the reason she was not going to hear it was because she didn't think the state should interfere in the confession.

Sen. Barto sent News 4 Tucson the following statement:

"Not being Catholic, I've had to think long and hard about the likely impact of SB 1008 on both victims and their abusers should it pass. I believe it would not actually solve the problem, as there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose the contents of a confession would have prevented a case of child abuse.  Furthermore, it could actually be detrimental, rather than protective of crime victims, as removing this limited exception would very likely result in perpetrators simply not bringing the matter to confession. Victims expecting confidentiality may also be chilled into silence, not receiving the much-needed help from police or a trained counselor."

Father James Connell a priest with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sent an email to Steele supporting the bill.

He disagreed the bill would have interfered with the church. "What kind of religion wants to protect criminals over protecting children?  That has just got to change and move past that. Now, if our faith is about truth and justice and love. It has to be about protecting children before we protect criminals."

Defense attorney Lynne Cadigan represents three children in Cochise County who were emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by their father.

It was that case Sen. Steele learned about that brought on the proposed legislation both times.

Cadigan currently has a civil suit against the church of Jesus Christ-Latter-day Saints. She too is disappointed the bill failed "A legislator who is a parent how can they not pass this bill. How can they not even hear it?"

Sen. Steele added, "When a child tells you that they are being abused you have a moral and a legal responsibility to report that, to protect the children."

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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