Judge: Abuse reporting case against church elders can go on

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A Delaware judge says state officials can pursue a lawsuit against elders of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation for failing to report suspected child abuse.

Superior Court Judge Mary M. Johnston last week declined to rule in favor of the elders, saying there are factual issues that must be decided at trial.

She nevertheless reiterated her concerns about the constitutionality of Delaware's child abuse reporting law.

The state is suing the elders for not reporting a sexual relationship between a woman and a 14-year-old boy, both congregation members at the time.

The defendants say they did not have to report what they learned because the law exempts communications "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."

The case has raised questions about whether that exemption unconstitutionally applies only to select denominations that use such terms.