JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri lawmakers considered a bill that would criminalize clergy sexual exploitation, Monday, Jan. 27.
The bill, presented to the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety, would make the sexual exploitation by or of a clergy person a class C felony. The bill would prevent any sexual conduct between a parishioner and religious leader within 120 days of first advisement.
Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, the bill sponsor and vice-chair of the House committee said the bill was inspired by a woman whose pastor took advantage of her in the aftermath of a difficult pregnancy. After telling her husband what happened, the victim went to the police.
"The police of course said, 'Well, there's nothing we can do, it was consensual,'" Conway said. "Well her response was, 'Well, it was consensual because she was so unduly influenced by this man."
Conway said the bill would not say that two people who fell in love could not be together. She said it protects people in vulnerable positions from sexual exploitation.
Rep. John McCaherty, R-St. Louis County, is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Murphy in Fenton, Mo. He said religious leaders should follow the same ethical laws that licensed therapists do, but wants to make sure the language is not one-sided.
"It's not always the clergy that initiates something like that," McCaherty said. "They need to be protected as well against advances from the people they're counseling."
The committee heard no testimony in support or opposition of the bill. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.