Missouri lawmakers take steps to protect people from sexual abuse inside church

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A Missouri house committee is considering a bill that would make it illegal for someone in the clergy to take advantage of a person they may be helping. 

Bill 1346 was reintroduced to lawmakers Monday in order to make sexual exploitation, whether consensual or not, a felony. 

Representative Kathie Conway filed the bill after a woman came to her and told her she was taken advantage of by the priest counseling her.  Although she told Conway it was consensual, she said she felt tricked into it, taken advantage of by her vulnerability.

Conway said the goal of the bill is to stop clergypersons from abusing their role as a therapist or leader to get sex.

The bill didn't make it out of committee last year because it was filed too late, but Conway said she's pushing for it again this year because she believes there are others out there in similar situations.

"I saw how it affected their lives and I bet they're not the only ones," she said. "I'm disappointed we're at the point in our society where legislatures have to be the moral compass of people."

Conway said the bill still needs work including making sure clergypersons are protected from false accusations.

Right now, the bill states the act is illegal only if it happens within 120 days of therapy.

It also would make the act a Class C felony -- meaning if convicted, the clergy person could be facing up to seven years behind bars.

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