Catholic Church group fights Colorado bill to reform system of reporting child abuse

Posted at 7:52 PM, Jan 29, 2018

DENVER — Legislation that would reform a mandatory system of reporting child abuse in Colorado is not getting support from the Catholic Church. 

Senate Bill 18-058 would extend the statute of limitations in cases where a person is required by law to report child abuse but fails to do so. 

Currently, the statute of limitations for failing to report child abuse or neglect in Colorado is 18 months, which could result in dropped charges in the recent indictment against three Cherry Creek school leaders accused of hiding allegations made by a specific student in 2013.

The measure, sponsored by state lawmakers Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Terri Carver (R-Colorado Springs), comes on the heels of the Cherry Creek case and indefinitely extends the period of time mandatory reporters could be prosecuted for not contacting authorities in child abuse cases.

A mandatory reporter is someone in a specific occupation that must report suspected child abuse. In Colorado, 40 categories of professions are covered under the law, including all public and private school employees.

However, the lobbying arm for the three Catholic Dioceses in Colorado argues the bill goes too far. In a statement sent to Denver7 Monday, the Colorado Catholic Conference states:

The concern with Senate Bill 18-058, as written, is that it creates an indefinite statute of limitations regarding mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect.  The principle of statutes of limitation acknowledges that as time elapses, evidence goes stale, memories fade, witnesses die or disappear.  In cases of child abuse, we should do everything possible to encourage victims to come forward as soon as possible and for those aware of the abuse to report it as soon as possible.  Our State law should reflect this policy as a matter of basic fairness to those involved and not go down a slippery slope that potentially creates unfair and unjust situations.

The statement stops short of detailing how the bill would impact the church, which has been rocked by a decades-long child sex assault scandal. And in some cases, clergy members have been accused of not reporting suspected child abuse.

The Colorado Catholic Conference says the church has "a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse." And calls the abuse of a child a "despicable crime, regardless of whether the offender is a member of the clergy, a teacher, counselor, or family member."

Meanwhile, the bill continues to move through the legislator. It will be discussed during a Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committee hearing next Monday.