07 Texas and Mississippi Clergy “Mandatory Reporting” Statutes

  • What’s at Stake?
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway
  • Texas Family Code – Section 261.101
  • “The Attorney as Mandatory Reporter” ~ Texas Bar Journal, March 2005
  • Mississippi Code Ann. § 43-21-353(1)

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What’s at Stake?

The following quotes come from the October 16, 2011, article by Amy Smith, “What’s at Stake: protecting and preserving the innocence of children.”

Any suspicion of abuse to minors must be reported to law enforcement as mandated by TX reporting laws which were enacted in 1971.

Under Texas law, ministers and clergy are required to report any suspected child abuse ― sexual or otherwise ― to authorities within 48 hours of being told, otherwise they too are committing a criminal offense. A child is defined as anyone under the age of 18.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway

This is the text found online at the link Ms. Smith provided to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, with a search for Texas statutes on Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect. (Note: The online link to the Texas Family Code has been added.)

Citation: Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 261.101 (LexisNexis through 2011 1st Sess.)

A person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.

The requirement to report under this section applies, without exception, to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a member of the clergy, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, and an employee of a clinic or health-care facility that provides reproductive services.

In addition, the Texas Family Code Ann. § 261.101, Persons Required to Report, Time to Report, states that the professional who is required to report must do so within 48 hours of learning of suspected abuse/neglect to a child, confirming the quote from a news article that Ms. Smith included in her article. The Texas statute also says, “A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report.”

So, my tentative conclusion is this: These seem to be relevant legal requirement details in considering the legitimacy and importance of questions that have been put to leadership personnel at Prestonwood Baptist Church in the past and present about the PBC staff tenure of now-convicted child sex offender John Langworthy, and about alleged negligence due PBC leaders’ failure to report. As best as I could discern from my research, these questions are apparently still unanswered.

[P.S. I am a research writer, not a lawyer. I do the best I can in trying to understand technical legal material and translate it into more accessible language when I can. If I happen to be missing something relevant in terms of Texas legal requirements, or misinterpreting the information available online, please let me know! Thank you … ~ brad/futuristguy]

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Texas Family Code – Section 261.101

Persons Required To Report; Time To Report

§ 261.101. PERSONS REQUIRED TO REPORT; TIME TO REPORT. 

(a) A person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.

(b)  If a professional has cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected or may be abused or neglected, or that a child is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code, and the professional has cause to believe that the child has been abused as defined by Section 261.001 or 261.401, the professional shall make a report not later than the 48th hour after the hour the professional first suspects that the child has been or may be abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code.  A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report.  In this subsection, “professional” means an individual who is licensed or certified by the state or who is an employee of a facility licensed, certified, or operated by the state and who, in the normal course of official duties or duties for which a license or certification is required, has direct contact with children.  The term includes teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, employees of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services, juvenile probation officers, and juvenile detention or correctional officers.

(c)  The requirement to report under this section applies without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a member of the clergy, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, and an employee of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.

(d)  Unless waived in writing by the person making the report, the identity of an individual making a report under this chapter is confidential and may be disclosed only:

(1)  as provided by Section 261.201;  or

(2)  to a law enforcement officer for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation of the report.

(Emphasis added.)

NOTES: Please note that the Texas statute for mandatory reporting includes both attorneys and members of the clergy. This may have relevance to the case of apparent failure to report John Langworthy to police for known/suspected sexual molestation of minors. According to at least one email text available online, Prestonwood Baptist Church lawyers apparently had been involved at the time of his firing from the PBC staff. Here is the relevant entry from Page 04 Timelines, and the documentation can be found on Amy Smith’s Watch Keep blog at Memories Don’t Know Time: Shining the Light on Child Sexual Abuse.

November 2010. Amy Smith emails Associate Pastor Neal Jeffrey at Prestonwood. (He was a PBC youth minister in 1989 when John Langworthy was fired.) Pastor Jeffrey’s email response includes the following:

Dr. Burchfield, the Superintendent [of Clinton Public Schools were John Langworthy was employed as a High School choir director] did call me and we had a pretty frank discussion of John, and his time here. He said that he was going to call John in and have a discussion with him about all this stuff. I also called our attorneys, who were involved in all of this back then, and they were going to discuss what we need to do, and probably call Dr. Burchfield, etc, The attorney guys did not remember all of the specifics of the case, so they were going to go back into their notes etc, and see what needs to be done. I have not heard back from any of them, so I will make an attempt to see where all of that is. (Emphasis added.)

I will let you know, blessings to you all,

Neal Jeffrey

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“The Attorney as Mandatory Reporter”
~ Texas Bar Journal, March 2005

Amy Smith at Watch Keep recommends the article, “The Attorney as Mandatory Reporter,” by Camille Glasscock DuBose and Cathy O. Morris (Texas Bar Journal, March 2005, pages 208-215). The article gives two brief hypothetical case scenarios, and then “examines an attorney’s duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect in Texas by reviewing the history of reporting laws and current laws in other states and in Texas. It also addresses attorney-client privilege and how it is affected by the Texas reporting law.” Quote from the article:

Texas’ first child abuse and reporting statute was enacted in 1965 and stated that any physician “may” report suspected abuse and neglect of a child. Who may report was broadened in 1969 and mandatory language was added in 1971. The 1971 amendment required mandatory reporting by any person who suspected that a child had been the victim of abuse or neglect, and provided immunity for those persons who reported suspected abuse in good faith.

[It then gives the then-current text of Texas 262.101.]

As indicated, Texas’ mandatory reporting requirements apply even to an attorney whose communications may be privileged. Importantly, however, the law also acknowledges that the attorney-client privilege may still continue to exclude this information as evidence in a proceeding regarding the abuse or neglect of a child.

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Mississippi Code Ann. § 43-21-353(1)

Miss. Code. Ann. § 43-21-353 (2011). Reporting abuse or neglect.

(1) Any attorney, physician, dentist, intern, resident, nurse, psychologist, social worker, family protection worker, family protection specialist, child caregiver, minister, law enforcement officer, public or private school employee or any other person having reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a neglected child is a neglected child or an abused child, shall cause an oral report to be made immediately by telephone or otherwise and followed as soon thereafter as possible by a report in writing to the Department of Human Services, and immediately a referral shall be made by the Department of Human Services to the youth court intake unit, which unit shall promptly comply with Section 43-21-357. In the course of an investigation, at the initial time of contact with the individual(s) about whom a report has been made under this Youth Court Act or with the individual(s) responsible for the health or welfare of a child about whom a report has been made under this chapter, the Department of Human Services shall inform the individual of the specific complaints or allegations made against the individual. Consistent with subsection (4), the identity of the person who reported his or her suspicion shall not be disclosed. Where appropriate, the Department of Human Services shall additionally make a referral to the youth court prosecutor.

Upon receiving a report that a child has been sexually abused, or burned, tortured, mutilated or otherwise physically abused in such a manner as to cause serious bodily harm, or upon receiving any report of abuse that would be a felony under state or federal law, the Department of Human Services shall immediately notify the law enforcement agency in whose jurisdiction the abuse occurred and shall notify the appropriate prosecutor within forty-eight (48) hours, and the Department of Human Services shall have the duty to provide the law enforcement agency all the names and facts known at the time of the report; this duty shall be of a continuing nature. The law enforcement agency and the Department of Human Services shall investigate the reported abuse immediately and shall file a preliminary report with the appropriate prosecutor’s office within twenty-four (24) hours and shall make additional reports as new or additional information or evidence becomes available. The Department of Human Services shall advise the clerk of the youth court and the youth court prosecutor of all cases of abuse reported to the department within seventy-two (72) hours and shall update such report as information becomes available. (Emphasis added.)

NOTES AND ANALYSIS:

General Notes. This edition of the Mississippi statutes on mandatory reporting comes from the National District Attorneys Association 2011 compilation, updated in November 2011. I have not yet been able to determine the exact date(s) of any prior changes in 2011 and 2011, if any. This would be important in this particular case of John Langworthy because, according to Prestonwood victims’ advocate Amy Smith, as early as January 2011 she was informing church leaders at Morrison Baptist Heights Church of alleged sexual molestations by Mr. Langworthy. This would assumedly include Philip Gunn, an elder and church lawyer at MBHC.

Also, around the time in early April 2011 that MHBC Pastor Greg Belser had arranged for a conference call among himself, Ms. Smith, Ms. LeFils, and church elders, apparently one of Mr. Langworthy’s victims from Jackson, MS, from between 1980-1984, contacted church leaders and later filed a police report. So, whenever that report was made (assuming it was the first one made), the Department of Human Services (DHS) was now required by Mississippi law to instigate an ongoing investigation. (For dates and details, see Memories Don’t Know Time: Shining the Light on Child Sexual Abuse on Amy Smith’s Watch Keep blog.)

Section (1), Paragraph 1. The 2011 mandatory reporting law in this edition applies to both attorneys and ministers/clergy. According to a November 29, 2011, news report on WJTV, MBHC leadership refused to give details of their investigation to prosecutors. According to the report, prosecutors said they would secure subpoenas if that’s what it took.

Section (1), Paragraph (2). It is the legal responsibility of the Department of Human Services – not the option or obligation of a church, its pastor, its elders, its lawyers – to follow up with investigation of known/suspected sexual abuse and report that to law enforcement agencies and appropriate prosecutors. Period.

Questions:

  • If Christians are supposed to obey civil authorities, how was it appropriate at any level for church leaders to usurp the legal responsibility of DHS to investigate a credible report on a sexual molester?
  • How was it appropriate in any way for church leaders, including an attorney who was also a state legislator and church elder, to impede the legal responsibility of prosecutors to develop their case?

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