Monday, February 26, 2024

The Role of Mandatory Reporting Laws in Preventing Catholic Sexual Abuse

There are a lot of people who are legally considered to be mandated reporters. These individuals help stop current and prevent future abuse in children and, in some states, protect adults of any age. 

As the most practiced form of Christianity, over one million people consider themselves Catholic worldwide. Unfortunately, there are more cases than there should be of abuse, sexual and other, within Catholicism. 

Since most people confess to a priest their sins expecting them not to share that with anyone else, mandatory reporting laws and the laws priests follow can get blurry. How do mandatory reporting laws help prevent Catholic sexual abuse when there’s priest-penitent privilege?

What is a Mandated Reporter?

Mandated reporters are those deemed by the government to report any suspected abuse on children and, in some cases, adults and older people. While most people will report abuse out of the goodness of their hearts, certain professions, like those in healthcare, teachers, and law enforcement personnel, are required by law to report any suspected abuse.

Many people assume religious leaders are mandated reporters, which isn’t the case. Only three states (Mississippi, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) consider priests mandated reporters. Many religious leaders in various religions will report abuse because they feel it’s their duty, but they’re not considered mandated reporters. 

How Mandatory Reporting Laws Affect Prevention of Catholic Sexual Abuse

In many cases, there is priest and clergy-penitent privilege. This means that anything someone says confidently to a priest or other clergy member is privileged. 

When a priest or clergy member hears something surrounding sexual abuse or another type, they legally don’t have to tell the authorities, which is why a lot of abuse goes unreported. 

Sexual abuse within the Catholic church has been an issue for decades. Many organizations and leaders disregard mandatory reporting laws because they feel they report to a higher law from the Vatican. 

This has caused a slew of sexual abuse cases among and by members of Catholic churches worldwide. Many members could get away with abuse for years because they didn’t always follow mandatory reporting laws, even if someone disclosed that information to them.

With more and more reports of systemic sexual abuse within Catholic churches, Pope Francis decided that there needed to be a change that would help protect and even prevent abuse. 

Pope Francis’ 2019 Catholic Church Law Update

In 2019, Pope Francis decided to change a Catholic Church law that previously stated that no mandated reporting was required from Priests, clergy members, and other church professionals. 

Pope Francis changed the law to state that it is now mandatory for all clergy members to report suspected abuse to church superiors. From there, the church superiors were in charge of deciding whether to report the instances. For the most part, most would choose to report the abuse to the proper authorities. 

By now requiring clergy members to report suspected abuse within the church to their superiors, it will hopefully slow the sexual abuse epidemic within Catholicism and eventually prevent it from happening. 


Sexual abuse has been a problem within the Catholic church for decades, maybe even centuries. With the blurring of lines between clergy-penitent privilege and mandatory reporting laws, many cases of Catholic Church sexual abuse went unreported for years or forever. 

With Pope Francis’ change to the Catholic Church law in 2019, all clergy members are required to report any suspected or witnessed abuse to church superiors which is more in line with mandatory reporting laws. While it still doesn’t make Priests mandated reporters, it’s a step in the right direction. 


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