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Clergy, Check Your Privilege about Mandated Reporting

Police in Pennsylvania recently charged a member of the clergy with failure to make a mandated report. According to police, he learned of the alleged sexual abuse from both the victim and the alleged perpetrator a couple of years ago.  Pennsylvania’s mandated reporter law includes clergy on the list of  individuals obligated to report suspected child abuse.

However, Pennsylvania also still retains the clergy privilege that exempts most clergy from the reporting requirement if they receive information "secretly and in confidence." It is not clear from the article whether this privilege will apply in this particular case, but prosecutors will have to prove that the claimed communications were outside the privilege.

Most states still recognize the clergy privilege even for mandated reports, but some states are beginning to reconsider that exception. In any situation where clergy members become aware of suspected child abuse, it is crucial not to assume that the clergy privilege applies. All clergy finding themselves in that situation should consult an attorney to understand their legal obligations and determine what the law requires in their specific jurisdiction.

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According to police, Gooden and the victim “had disclosed the sexual assault’ to Hintze as early as October 2020. Under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, Hintze’s role as a stake president, which includes counseling other church officials, made him a mandated reporter, one of many categories of people — like social workers and school employees — who “are required to report suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.


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