Feb 23, 2024

Survivor of child sex abuse urges Kansas lawmakers to mandate clergy reporting

Posted Feb 23, 2024 4:23 PM
Joe Cheray campaigns for House Bill 2300 at the entrance of the Statehouse in Topeka. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Joe Cheray campaigns for House Bill 2300 at the entrance of the Statehouse in Topeka. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Joe Cheray is well aware that clergy members aren’t required to report child abuse.

She remembers going to her priest as a child, asking for his help when she was being sexually abused. Cheray said he did nothing.

“Had I known back then clergy were not mandated reporters of abuse, I would’ve just went to law enforcement and the Department for Children and Families. I wouldn’t have even said anything to my church at all,” Cheray said.

Cheray, who advocates with other survivors of child sex abuse every week in the entrance of the Statehouse, is asking that ministers and clergy be required to report cases like hers.

Earlier this month, Rep. Tobias Schlingensiepen, a Topeka Democrat and senior pastor at First Congregational Church, introduced House Bill 2300, which would add ordained ministers of religion to the mandated reporters list, with an exception for penitential communication, such as confession.

“People wonder why that isn’t the case already, and frankly, as a pastor, I do too,” Schlingensiepen said.

The bill was assigned to the Judiciary Committee, and no hearing has been scheduled.

DCF estimated implementation of the bill would result in increased reporting to the Kansas Protection Report Center, which oversees abuse reports. The change could result in an increase of $74,569 in expenditures from the State General Fund for an additional staff position to deal with the workload.

Four previous attempts to get clergy added to the list of mandated reporters failed in 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023. Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, led the charge during the last legislative session following the release of a four-year investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The KBI report found at least 188 church members suspected of committing offenses ranging from indecent liberties with a child to rape.

Schlingensiepen said he didn’t have a lot of optimism that the bill would be implemented this session, because of lawmaker preoccupation with other issues, such as the flat tax. A Republican-led effort to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto and pass a universal 5.25 percent income tax rate failed earlier this week.

“I feel like they don’t have any appetite to put more on their plates, but that said, I think hopefully it’ll be back again next session, and we’ll try this again, this time with multiple sponsors on both sides of the aisle,” Schlingensiepen said. “We already have very broad support.”

For now, Cheray will keep advocating for broader protections for survivors of sexual assault.

“I do this for the kid in me that didn’t know,” Cheray said. “And I do this for all of the other survivors and victims now and in the future so that there is one more protection point for them to hopefully get some help."