Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation April 19 strengthening laws applying to child abuse by clergy.
The bill states clergy will be required to report suspected child abuse and extends time limits for victims to sue clergy or other religious organizations to provide further support and protection for victims.
“This provision will ensure that religious organizations are held more accountable for the actions of clergy under their supervision if they failed to report the behavior or if they did not make an effort to prevent repeat incidents of abuse,” Gov. Doyle said in a release.
Since most other secular professions are already required by law to report abuse of minors, SB 207 extends the law of reporting child abuse to religious organizations. In addition, victims will now have until they reach 35 years of age to file civil suits and until they are 45 years old to file criminal actions.
The bill required compromises from both Gov. Doyle and the Catholic Church.
“One exemption to this new legislation is that any incident of child abuse discussed in private conversation, not just in a confessional, is exempt from being reported,” said Peter Isely, Midwest director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), meaning a bishop may discuss a specific incident of abuse with a priest in private conversation and it is not required by law to be reported.
Members of SNAP have been in debate for several months with the church urging them to release the names of perpetrators to leaders in the Catholic community if not to government officials.
“Keeping these names private is not keeping children safe,” Isely said.
After signing the new law, Gov. Jim Doyle formally asked dioceses to release the names of those priests who sexually abused minors.
With over 200 victims in the Milwaukee area alone, victims and their loved ones feel it is about time that action is being taken to prevent future scandals.
“We are glad some effort is being made to hold the church accountable,” Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, said. “Governor Doyle should be applauded for his efforts asking the church to release the names of perpetrators.”
Dioceses are hesitant to do so, claiming releasing the names of specific clergy will infringe upon victim confidentiality.
Blaine, however, disagreed.
“The Church’s response to Governor Doyle’s request is disingenuous,” she said. “Most victims are fighting to have the names released.”
The Church maintains it is not holding out on releasing the names but simply figuring out what is the best way to do so.
“The Church is willing to release the names of culpable clergy members. However, it must be done in a certain way which is still under debate,” said Jerry Topcezewski, spokesman for the Archdioceses of Milwaukee. “We are making our decisions based on three key factors: Will releasing the names help survivors in their restoration and healing processes, keep children safe and provide an outlet for survivors?”
According to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, many victims do not want the public to know who these perpetrators are.
The first reports of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in the early 1990s were first assumed to be isolated events, but after thousands of alleged victims came forward, child abuse within the church was identified as a national, systematic problem.