From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 08:37:58


                       LOSES DAMAGES AWARD 
                     by Jerry L. Van Marter 
AUSTIN, Texas--A Texas appeals court has upheld a lower court's 
judgment that the Texas Department of Human Services violated the 
Rev. Ned Benson's right to confidentiality when he reported 
suspected child abuse by members of his Austin congregation several 
years ago. 
     "Benson was poorly treated by Department of Human Services 
employees, who negligently promised confidentiality and then 
ignored these promises in disclosing his identity to suspects under 
investigation,"  said the state Third District Court of Appeals 
Feb. 8. 
     However, in the same decision, the court reversed monetary 
damages the lower court had awarded Benson.  It based that reversal 
on a technicality in Texas tort claims law.  The court did uphold 
the payment of Benson's attorney's fees by the state. 
     The revelation of Benson's identity in the child abuse case 
so disrupted the congregation he was serving that he resigned and 
was subsequently unemployed for a couple of years.  Benson was 
recently called as pastor to St. John's Presbyterian Church in 
Reno, Nev. 
     "My bullheaded persistence in this (clergy confidentiality) 
thing has never been about money," Benson said.  "It's been about 
the safety and security of children, about protecting them from 
abuse by encouraging ordinary folks and professionals who suspect 
abuse to report it." 
     Numerous professional and religious organizations, including 
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), filed amicus curiae briefs in 
support of Benson.  The court agreed, stating, "Denying 
confidentiality to professionals discourages the reporting of abuse 
by those most likely to observe the mistreatment of children: 
teachers, counselors, physicians and clergy." 
                            # # # 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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