SIDEBAR: Are Ministers Mandatory Child-Abuse Reporters

Ministers are mandatory child-abuse reporters in many states, either because the child-abuse reporting law defines mandatory reporters to include “ministers,” or because the law makes “any person” a mandatory reporter of child abuse. In other states, ministers may be mandatory reporters if they perform the duties of one of the specified categories of mandatory reporter. For example, a minister may be a mandatory reporter because he or she is a teacher or administrator at a church-operated school, or serves as a counselor.

No state clergy-penitent privilege statute or rule specifies that the privileged nature of a communication exempts a minister from complying with child-abuse reporting requirements. However, several child-abuse reporting laws exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.

Several state child-abuse reporting laws provide that no child who is being treated solely by spiritual means through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church shall, for that reason alone, be considered to be an “abused” child.