MADISON — The Catholic League says a bill introduced last week by three Wisconsin lawmakers assaults the seal of the Catholic confessional. One of the bill’s proposers, state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, counters that those who oppose the legislation are standing with the perpetrators of child abuse instead of protecting children.

“You’re either on the side of the child, or you’re on the side of the pedophile,” Taylor said.

Taylor, along with state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, during a news conference last week introduced a bill that would make clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse, including sexual abuse, even if the clergy member found out about the abuse through private communications that under the tenets of his or her religion are expected to be kept secret.

This would apply to information disclosed through Catholic confession.

“Why are Catholic priests being singled out?” Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement. “This is religious profiling. Indeed, the bill is manifestly anti-Catholic.”

Singling out Catholics?

Rep. Taylor argues that children of all faith traditions have the right to worship without fear of being sexually assaulted, and said the bill was not aimed at Catholicism specifically.

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“This is about protecting children of all faiths,” she said.

She pointed to a recent report by the Capital Times of Madison, in which several women alleged abuse by prominent members of the Cavalry Gospel Church, a Pentecostal church in Madison. The reported abuse occurred between the 1980s and 2005, and the women claim that clergy and other members of the church were aware of the abuse and discouraged reporting to police.

However, sexual abuse by priests was mentioned specifically in a news release from the three lawmakers that was distributed last week. In the news release, the lawmakers point out that records held by the Milwaukee Archdiocese confirm that the systemic sexual abuse of children was covered up and ignored in the Catholic Church until the early 2000s.

“This bill is vital in ending the systemic abuse, and cover-ups of such abuse, that has occurred,” Sargent said in a statement emailed to The Journal Times. “Thank you to the religious individuals, churches, and communities who know that child abuse and sexual violence is never okay, and who are willing to take meaningful steps to combat this issue.”

In his statement, Donohue called the bill a “monumental flop” and stated “The government has no business policing the sacraments of the Catholic Church.”

The lawmakers who introduced the bill last week are circulating it this week, looking for co-sponsors.

“You’re either on the side of the child, or you’re on the side of the pedophile.” State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison

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Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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