Three former members of The Life Church in Virginia are now pushing for a law in that state to designate clergy as mandatory reporters of child sex abuse.
Hannah Hudson, Liz Thomasson and Kristin Frazier attended The Life Church where Jordan Baird, a son of Pastors David and Jo Ann Baird, was convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old church member almost a year ago. Baird, who's a former youth pastor, was also re-arrested and accused of abusing another teenager in 2014. Jordan is expected to face trial for that case in February, according to FOX 5.
Hudson said she was subpoenaed to testify in the first case “because of inappropriate texts that Jordan had sent me a few years back.”
Prior to their experience with Baird’s case, the former church members told the network that they didn't realize clergy weren't required to report suspected cases of child sex abuse in Virginia, so they set out on a mission to change that.
“Basically just went office to office [at the state capitol] just to see if anybody would bite,” Hudson said.
Thomasson said they were inspired to push for change after the struggle they went through to hold Baird accountable.
Victims alleged in statements that they were treated poorly when they confronted Jordan and his family about his crimes.
One victim said the Baird family aligned themselves with Satan to demonize her when they sought to hold him accountable for sexually abusing her. Instead of helping to provide comfort and justice, she said the church tried to cover-up what the former youth pastor did and turned the congregation against them.
“There was a lot of hurt and anger that I had for a long time that, thankfully, was then channeled into this energy,” Thomasson said. “To say, ‘I still can make change.’ I can’t make change (at Life Church), but I can protect children other ways.”
State Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, took up their cause and sponsored the bill that would make clergy mandatory reporters.
“The real catalyst for this bill has been the Prince William issue and the proactive wonderful people who took it on,” Vogel told Fox 5.
Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax/Loudon, has also drafted a bill on the House side.
She said she realized there was a broader need for the legislation after hearing from the former members of The Life Church.
“I think it’s incredibly inspirational that they took a really sensitive and tragic event that happened in their church community and have turned it into this kind of advocacy,” Delaney said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes that identify persons who are required to report child maltreatment under specific circumstances. While 28 states make clergy mandatory reporters, only 12 of these states make absolutely no exemption for clergy.
The law being considered to make clergy mandatory reporters will simply add clergy to the list of “persons who are required to report suspected” abuse, with an exception for when a faith’s doctrine requires the report “to be kept confidential” according to The Washington Post. Lawmakers said the exception was added specifically to protect the confessional — a sacrament in Catholic doctrine.
Jeff Caruso, director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, which lobbies for the Church in Richmond, told The Washington Post that the Conference is in favor of adding clergy to the list of mandated reporters, so long as the clergy-penitent relationship is protected. The state’s two dioceses have a similar requirement, he said.