Vermont lawmaker to seek to close clergy reporting exemption

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The head of the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee says he’s going to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session to close an exemption to the state’s child abuse and neglect reporting laws for members of the clergy.

Democratic Sen. Richard Sears of Bennington says he was unaware that the Vermont law requiring members of a number of professions, including doctors, teachers, social workers and the clergy, to report abuse if they become aware of it contains an exemption for members of the clergy if they become aware of abuse during a setting that is considered privileged, such as during confession.

Sears said that under the law it shouldn’t be up to people who are mandated reporters to decide what to do if they learn of potential abuse, they should report it.

“My gut reaction is nobody should get a free pass,” Sears said.

Sears, a longtime chair of the Judiciary Committee who has worked for years to fight child abuse, said he had thought that members of the clergy were mandated reporters in all circumstances, but he learned of Vermont’s exemption through a news story published earlier this year by The Associated Press.

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