December 12, 2017

Time for Churches to Support Mandatory Reporting

Duntroon Anglican Church 003
By Mattinbgn (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I've made it fairly clear that I'm not a fan of outrage. I believe that the sort of chronic undifferentiated outrage we encounter on social media these days probably does more harm than good. Still, I'd never argue that selective outrage serves no purpose. I'd also never claim that there aren't plenty of things worth getting outraged about.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy and the well-documented efforts of church hierarchy to conceal these crimes and protect known perpetrators are some of the things that should provoke outrage. Of course, what I'd really like to see is evidence that this outrage is leading to meaningful change to prevent such abuse from happening. But so far, this appears to be elusive. In fact, church leadership often seems to be an obstacle.

According to the National Secular Society, "Survivors and campaigners have accused the Archbishop of Canterbury of being 'evasive' and failing to offer 'clear leadership' over child abuse." Again and again, we have seen evidence of church leadership circling the wagons to protect known abusers. And when such evidence comes to light and church officials have the opportunity to do something about it (e.g., mandatory reporting), we see them fail.

Mandatory reporting is an excellent example of something religious institutions could implement that should make a difference. As the National Secular Society explains, mandatory reporting requirements "...would mean Church officials who had reasonable grounds for suspecting child abuse and failed to inform the authorities would be breaking the law." So what are we to make of religious institutions who refuse to support such requirements? It seems to me that we have to suspect that they aren't serious about preventing abuse or assisting in the prosecution of those who perpetrate it.