BISMARCK, North Dakota — A bipartisan North Dakota bill that would have required clergy to be included in state law as mandatory reporters of child abuse has been withdrawn.
West Fargo Republican Sen. Judy Lee withdrew the legislation on Friday, saying the bill “is and always has been to prevent child abuse.”
“Unfortunately, because of lack of understanding of the goal and the circumstances, the bill has become a distraction, and attention has moved from the child abuse crisis to other topics,” Lee said on the Senate floor.
The Catholic dioceses in Fargo and Bismarck had opposed the bill.
North Dakota law requires those working in many occupations to report any evidence of child abuse. But clergy is exempt.
The bill would have made failure to report abuse punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Private discussions between clergy and penitents are considered by many religions to be sacrosanct.
Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said the legislation would have “interfered with religious freedom to talk to your spiritual adviser in confidence.”
Only a handful of states specifically deny the clergy-penitent privilege in child abuse cases, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.