- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

NEW YORK While Catholics celebrated the most important holiday in the liturgical year, legislators and lobbyists throughout the state stepped up their efforts to amend laws governing the sexual abuse of children.
The Republican-led New York State Senate has unanimously passed a measure that would require clergy of all religions to report suspected incidents of child molestation to a state-run hot line.
A competing bill in the Democrat-controlled Assembly is already gathering steam and has called for reporting child-abuse cases directly to law enforcement.
Current state law does not include clergy in the categories of people who must report such offenses, such as teachers and day care workers.
"There has to be some accountability," said Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York and the father of nine children educated in Catholic schools.
He echoed the sentiment of Catholic and non-Catholic politicians throughout the state who are deeply offended by the national scandal over priestly abuse of young children and teen-agers.
Both bills would protect information received under the seal of the sacrament of confession.
The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Stephen M. Saland, Poughkeepsie Republican/Conservative, would mandate the reporting of all suspected sexual-abuse cases going back five years from the effective date of the law.
"It is unconscionable not to do everything possible to keep children safe," Mr. Saland said.
While the Senate bill would refer abuse allegations to a state hot line known as Child Protective Services, the Assembly version is according to its sponsor, Rep. John J. McEneny a case of "call the cops."
Mr. McEneny, a five-term Democrat from Albany who is chairman of the ethics committee, wants a law that would require a review of sexual-abuse reports going back 20 years, and even longer if the clergy members are still active.
"I picked the issue because I have the credentials," Mr. McEneny said. "I'm a father and a practicing Catholic, and I receive the sacraments."
"This is a sad time for the church and for a father," he said. "There is outrage, and anger, and a paternal desire to protect children in the future."
Until now, Senate Republicans leaders have supported church positions on this issue. But although there is widespread support for a new law governing sex abuse of children, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Rensselaer Republican, has reservations about forcing church officials to give up names that go back 20 years.
Mr. McEneny said he has encountered no opposition to his sterner bill from the Archdiocese of New York, or the influential Catholic Conference, a lobbying group that promotes the interests of the church.
New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan has indicated that he favors the reporting of sexual molestation cases to law enforcement by church officials only if the victims and parents agree, a condition not contained in either of the two bills.
The cardinal's press office did not return calls seeking comment on the state legislature's actions.


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