Recently, Monsignor William Lynn of the Roman Catholic Church was sentenced to a term of up to six years after being convicted of child endangerment. This child abuse conviction represents the first time a U.S. Catholic clergy person has been convicted on a criminal charge stemming from allegations of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests. The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2012, quotes Judge M. Teresa Sarmina saying, “You knew full well what was right, Msgr. Lynn, but you chose wrong.”
For churches in Georgia, this case is noteworthy because the new Georgia Child Abuse Reporting statute took effect on July 1, 2012, and the new statute includes new requirements for clergy to report suspected child abuse. The new statute, found at O.C.G.A. §19-7-5, makes it clear that all staff and volunteers, even Sunday School teachers, and clergy in nearly all circumstances, must report suspected child abuse within twenty-four hours to the Department of Family and Children’s Services.
If your denomination’s leadership has, in the past, simply reassigned a clergy person to another parish when allegations or suspicion of child abuse surfaced, Georgia’s new statute would necessitate a change in that past practice! The statute sets forth the requirements for reporting and the consequences for the failure to report, including fines and prosecution. Georgia’s new statute applies to all types of churches and organizations serving children, not just one denomination. Be sure that your congregation’s Safe Sanctuaries training includes the appropriate information for reporting suspected abuse. This is critical for the protection of children and for the protection of your congregation’s mission.