Senate bill 218 helps church advance its safe environment efforts

Chuck Weber is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

by Chuck Weber

The Catholic Church in Kansas is emerging as the “gold standard” of safe environments for our children. 

The latest brick in this security fortress is Senate Bill 218, legislation now winding its way through the statehouse. 

The bill adds “duly ordained ministers” — including Catholic bishops and priests — to those already required by law to report if they suspect “a child has been harmed as a result of physical, mental or emotional abuse or neglect or sexual abuse.” Penalties for noncompliance include jail time. 

The Kansas Catholic Conference (KCC) testified in support of this legislation and is a driving force behind it.  

The senate sponsor of the bill joined sexual abuse victims and their families in thanking us for KCC support at a recent legislative hearing.  

Our testimony began with a heartfelt apology to victims of sexual abuse, including some in attendance, on behalf of our Kansas bishops and all Catholics. 

A front-page picture in the Topeka CapitalJournal showed me reaching out to one such family member in gratitude for her courageous testimony. As a church, we cannot say, “I am sorry” enough.

The tragic stories of abuse victims made headlines, as they should. The rest of the story —our story — was ignored. Here’s some of what else state senators heard, and most of Kansas missed, about what the Catholic Church is doing to ensure the safety of our young and vulnerable. 

Clergy sexual abuse in Kansas and around the country has declined precipitously since 2002. Tens of thousands of Kansas Catholics —priests, teachers, school volunteers and anyone working regularly around with our children — are required to receive certified training in the detection and reporting of child sexual abuse. 

Senators learned about 41,000-plus background checks conducted in just the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas for those who work with children. 

Tens of thousands of other Catholics have cleared state and national background checks in communities across the state, which are regularly renewed and checked against the Kansas Sex Offender Registry. 

A former FBI special agent, our safe environment expert investigator and trainer for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, was present to answer legislators’ questions concerning our independent review boards, ongoing counseling support for victims, and full cooperation with Kansas law enforcement agency initiatives and investigations. 

The Catholic Church was rocked to its foundations by the clergy abuse crisis. Now, we are taking back our church, welcoming every opportunity to drive predators from our midst, regardless of who they are. 

SB218 solidifies in statute the ongoing vigilance and partnership of bishops, clergy, law enforcement, state agencies and the Catholic in the pew. 

We can never have too many weapons in the fight to protect our children. 

Please pray for the success of SB218.  

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