children, abuse, and the law

by peaceloveharmony 9 Replies latest jw friends

  • peaceloveharmony

    today for work, i was scheduled to attend a training session called "mandatory reporting". since i work in the public sector and i work for children (as a child support collections officer) i am mandated by state law to "make a child protection report if [I] know or have reason to believe that: a child is being neglected or abused; or has been neglected or abused in the preceding three years".(quote from the handbook passed out at meeting). since i had the statute right in front of me i decided to see who else is mandated to report suspected abuse. specifically i was thinking about the silentlambs and jw here is what i found under the section "persons mandated to report" (M.S. 626.556 subd. 3):

    (2) employed as a member of the clergy and received the information while engaged in ministerial duties, provided that a member of the clergy is not required by this subdivision to report information that is otherwise privileged under section 595.02, subdivision 1, paragraph (c).

    see: for full body of the statute

    okay, so i'm thinking, "employed" hmm, does that exclude JW elders since they are volunteers and not paid by the WTS? also, what does this other statute say about privileged information? well, i don't know about my first question since i'm not sure if WTS legal department tells elders in minnesota they need to report suspected abuse or not...anyone here know if this is the case in minnesota?? as for the priviledged information, i looked that up and here is what i found (M.S. 595.02 subd. 1)

    (c) A member of the clergy or other minister of any religion shall not, without the consent of the party making the confession, be allowed to disclose a confession made to the member of the clergy or other minister in a professional character, in the course of discipline enjoined by the rules or practice of the religious body to which the member of the clergy or other minister belongs; nor shall a member of the clergy or other minister of any religion be examined as to any communication made to the member of the clergy or other minister by any person seeking religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort or advice given thereon in the course of the member of the clergy's or other minister's professional character, without the consent of the person.


    so, what does this mean for jw victims of child abuse in minnesota? i'm not sure since i don't know what wts legal instructs the elders to do but it would seem to me that the elders would NOT have to report known or suspected abuse and be protected under the law. first, they are not employed clergy and second, anything they learn under "confession" would be privledged information(if i'm reading the second statute quoted correctly). anyone else done any research into what their state laws say about mandotory reporting?

    and a side note here:

    also in this training session, the speaker mentioned religious and cultural differences and how we (child advocates) needed to be aware of some of these in our dealings with the public. she went on the point out that "some people refuse blood transfusions due to religious belief" my ears perked up at this...she went on to say "in that case, CPS (child protection services) will go to a jugde and get a court order to transfuse." i wanted to stand up and clap! i'm happy that the state feels it has a right to interfere in those cases involving minor children.

    okay, well that's, happy friday everyone

    "Power doesn't mean you're acting like a man, or you're a bully or a bitch. It's that you don't let people step on you"
    -Sharon Monplaisir

  • LDH

    Wow PLH thanks for posting that.

    Is there anyone here who could give more insight into those laws and how they would apply to JW elders?


  • JanH

    Thanks, Mony. Very interesting information, from someone who knows as opposed to someone who guesses

    okay, so i'm thinking, "employed" hmm, does that exclude JW elders since they are volunteers and not paid by the WTS?

    It is very odd that the determining factors should be whether a paycheck is involved. Could you check out this matter?

    Of course, the question of jurisdiction makes this even more difficult. With 50 US states, it will be hard for a nationwide (and, even worse, international) religion to make rules for its clergy. They could have avoided that quandry by doing the right thing in the first place, instead of looking for loopholes to avoid protecting victims.

    - Jan
    Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel. [Ambrose Bierce, The DevilĀ“s Dictionary, 1911]

  • open_mind


    The issue with minor children here in michigan is the same. The cps will get a court order for the transfusion. I know a fifteen year old who had to have a transfusion. Her parents went to court to fight the transfusion, but they lost (good). She is fine now, probably would have died without it though.

    It seems that all JW's would be included in the law that you quoted for us. They are all legaly considered ministers in the U.S. (correct?) If this is the case, it seems they would all be exempt from the obligation to report child abuse and child sexual abuse cases to the proper authorities. It wouldn't matter if they were an elder or a ms or just a "friend". Although, knowledge outside of the elders is probably very limited. The society tries to keep a lid on child abuse cases.

  • peaceloveharmony


    i will see if i can find out why the law specifically says "employed clergy" because that IS a huge loophole a number of religious-type people can use.

    They could have avoided that quandry by doing the right thing in the first place, instead of looking for loopholes to avoid protecting victims.

    this is so true, if the tower would just "do the right thing" and insist ALL elders and even r/f jws, report suspected or known abuse to the authorities, then they wouldn't be in this mess they are in now. they bashed the catholic church for it's hiding and covering up of pedophiles while the hypocrites where themselves doing it! makes me sick.....

    thanks for the comments so far....


    "Power doesn't mean you're acting like a man, or you're a bully or a bitch. It's that you don't let people step on you"
    -Sharon Monplaisir

  • AlanF

    Interesting info, PLH. Thanks for posting it.

    That business about being "employed" is important, so please do find out how state agencies interpret it. "Employment" might include performing clergy duties without being paid. Also important is how state agencies would distinguish between a JW "minister" who is an elder and one who is not.

    A very important question is raised by the language of the "privilege" statute. It clearly states that a clergyman or minister cannot be compelled to disclose 'privileged' information without the consent of the confessor. The interesting question here is whether a clergyman can be compelled to disclose if the confessor explicitly requests it. I'm asking this because the WTS has used these "ecclesiastical privilege" statutes to avoid testifying in court cases even when the person that is supposed to be protected by the laws requests it and even when the elders' failure to testify injures the confessor. To me, this is a gross misuse of these laws and it needs to be explicitly addressed by state legislators.


  • Tina

    Thanks for this info! I too, am interested in the legal definition of employed in this instance.
    Does ecclesiastical privilege end when others are in danger> In mental heath there is the Tarasoff ruling that privilege ends when public danger begins. I wrote about this law a while ago on h20. Would Tarasoff apply in this case Harmony? Thanks again for the timely info,luv ya,T

  • Seeker

    With each state having its own laws on the matter of reporting, I'm sure this is why the WTS requires elders to contact the Legal Dept whenever abuse is reported. The boys in Legal must have a list of which states require reporting and which ones don't, and they advise accordingly.

    Of course, if this were the right religion, they would just do what's right, not merely what's forced on them by law.

  • mommy

    Great info Harmony. I was interested in Seekers opinion, when he said they should "do what is right." Where do we draw the line with what is right and what is wrong? Perhaps the elders involved in the case are satisfied that a person is repentant, and nothing further is neccesary. But, obviously silentlambs is not satified, so he took it further.

    This is where we get into the legal and ethical issue. Most professional, that deal in human resources are covered by the law of ethics. Where they may make a decision based on their ethical decision, and still be covered legally. Don't the elders qualify under this? The org may be making them out to be volunteers, but even volunteers are able to make ethical decisions, that may breach the legal line.

    All of us know what a hold the org has on many, and the active members do not see things clearly. So my only hope is that the elders who have let pedophiles walk, have peace in their hearts.

  • Monica


    I am a Mandatory Reporter too and I came across info regarding clergy persons having to report as well. But in the materials I have read, there is no mention of the word "employed."

    Think about this: If they are just "volunteers" and not required to report, then it doesn't seem they would be allowed to hide behind the "privileged" protection law. If they are not considered "clergy" persons, then they would have to testify in court when being subpoena'd. But no, they consider themselves to be "clergy" persons thus protecting them. It seems like it would be difficult for them to turn around and say in child abuse situations that they are not required to report because they are volunteers, when they have already claimed they are clergy persons.

    So that being said, the only reason I would think they would not be required to report is if somehow the info is considered "privileged," which is a topic I am unclear and uneducated about.

    Anyway, I found this interesting link - someone who wrote a report on Mandatory Reporting.


    In the report, he quoted the following:

    "in 19 states all citizens are required to report incidents of abuse and neglect"

    I am not sure which 19 states these are, but I do know the "Mandatory Reporting" law is nationwide, but certain states do protect clergy to some degree. This person goes on to mention Clergy persons required to report (I tried to bold the last sentence, but I don't know if it worked):

    "Members of the clergy make up a final category that is often included in reporting laws. Their inclusion leads to a discussion of privileged communication. A number of states have decided that there are certain instances when an individual should not be required to report. The instance most often cited by state laws is information gained by a clergyman or woman during confession or some other confidential communication. Arizona, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington state have all excused clergy members from reporting privileged communications. These states have not, however, excused clergy members from reporting abuse or neglect that they observe while performing their other duties."

    It would be interesting to know just what is considered privileged. Alan mentioned something I never thought about. Is a child going to an elder to say that they were abused considered a "confession" to the elder thus making it privileged? What if the elders are required to report this abuse, but before they call Child Prot Svs, they go to the perpetrator and get a confession. Is it now considered privileged?

    I believe that elders are not excluded from this Mandatory Reporting law, especially since lawsuits have been brought against elders for not reporting. The following link is about a girl in Texas whose family went numerous times to the elders about the girl's brother abusing her. The elders never reported it and she decided to pursue a lawsuit. I could not find the outcome, but here is a link just mentioning that the girl filed a lawsuit:


    As a mandatory reporter, I know that if I fail to report suspected abuse, I could face a civil lawsuit by the abused child, so I try to keep informed. I personally would never trust anyone to do this research for me (as elders trust the borg to do for them).

    I don't know if this helps anyone at all - I just wanted to share what I found and what I think on the subject.

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