Utah clergy reporting bill heads to state House with support from clergy

 February 13, 2024

A bill to legally protect members of the clergy who report ongoing abuse of children to outside agencies cleared a Utah House committee on Friday and will now get a vote by the entire state House.

Traditionally in some faith traditions, anything "confessed" or shared with clergy has been confidential due to clergy-penitent privilege, which has conflicted with requirements to report abuse or neglect of children to authorities.

HB432, introduced by State Rep. Anthony Loubet (R) last month, would give clergy members an option to report abuse if they believe it is ongoing, even if it is revealed during confession or other such practice.

The bill also gives clergy legal protection if they do report the abuse, and represents a "middle ground" in such reporting because it does not mandate it.

Encourages reporting

"This safeguard aims to encourage reporting, while acknowledging the potential conflicts that may arise within religious institutions," Loubet told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. "This bill represents a step forward in achieving that balance, ensuring that our laws reflect our commitment to the well-being of our children, while representing the diverse beliefs that make our communities strong."

It's the first such bill that faith groups in Utah don't oppose, because it is voluntary rather than a mandate.

"To kick those situations to an objective outsider is a gift that so many of our clergy across the state approve of," Rabbi Avremi Zippel, program director at Chabad Lubavitch of Utah and chairman of the Utah Crime Victims Council said.

Police are also supportive of the bill because it allows them to act more quickly in situations of ongoing abuse and neglect.

"When we're talking about child abuse crimes, when it comes to child abuse or neglect, obviously time is of the essence. We want to begin investigating these cases and looking into these cases as soon as we can," Unified Police Sergeant Rob Scott said. "And as we've also seen in many of our cases, our subjects do not just abuse one individual ... and our suspects do not just stop, they continue until they're actually stopped or caught or an investigation begins."

Concerns about the bill

Current Utah law requires "any person who has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse, neglect or dependency" to report the situation to the Division of Child and Family Services or law enforcement, but exempts clergy if they learned of the abuse through confession if that religious tradition prohibits such sharing.

Some defense attorneys expressed concerns about the bill because celery have traditionally been the only place parents and others can go for help if they don't want the abuse reported to the authorities.

"If they go to their best friend, if they go to their wife, if they go to a doctor, if they go to a therapist or a psychiatrist — all of those people are mandatory reporters," said Mark Moffat, a defense attorney. "The one place that they can go and that they have traditionally gone is they've gone to their ecclesiastical leaders to attempt to get some help, to attempt to ... start the process of reconciliation to start the process of forgiveness."

"And now, through this bill, we are taking away from them a means to get the help they need," he added.

It seems that the bill will pass, however, because protecting children is more important than protecting those who abuse and neglect them.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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