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The Nov. 10 editorial, "A revised sex abuse policy," raised an important issue. Attestations on a local and national level that the Catholic Church "will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations" are meaningless in the absence of reporting laws. As The News indicated, current law in New York does not require clergy to report suspected child sexual abuse, nor does it require anyone else to report suspected child sexual abuse by clergy members.

While reporting legislation is being considered, it raises complex problems. Simply adding clergy to the list of mandated reporters will have no impact on investigations of clergy members who may have committed abuse. Legislation must go further, and include a requirement that law enforcement agencies and/or district attorneys be notified of suspected abuse by clergy members. Even these major changes will not address the problem of suspected abuse long past and may take significant time to legislate and implement.

In the meantime, dioceses could address this issue. Several already have, by voluntarily signing agreements to report allegations of abuse by priests to local district attorneys. Such agreements can serve many purposes.

They instill confidence in the church's stated desire to address this issue and to protect children. They allow trained professionals who are routinely responsible for child abuse investigations to conduct them in a manner that is both fair to the accused and compassionate to the child. Western New York has many resources to implement fair and compassionate investigations.

Finally, an agreement to report to legal authorities would also address legitimate due-process concerns voiced by representatives of the church. Priests who were subjects of reports would be afforded all of the due-process rights our Constitution provides -- the same rights available to all other Americans.


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