SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A Utah lawmaker plans to introduce legislation requiring clergy members to report confessions of child sexual abuse to law enforcement, something currently not required under state law.
The specific section of the Utah code dealing with reporting requirements exempts priests and other religious leaders from being mandated to report to law enforcement when a perpetrator confesses to crimes, saying those confessions are privileged. If an ecclesiastical leader receives a report of abuse from anyone other than the perpetrator, he or she is required to report it to authorities.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said Thursday she planned to introduce a bill that would remove the exemption. Several other states have already done so.
Ryan McKnight, founder of the Truth and Transparency Foundation, recently divulged details of a 2018 Davis County case in which a man confessed to his Latter-day Saint church leaders that he had made and distributed child pornography as a juvenile. According to court documents obtained by ABC4 News, church leaders never reported that to law enforcement. Under current Utah law, that is legal.
McKnight said he believes the law should be changed.
“When we are talking about the abuse of children, I think it’s an easy line in the sand to draw for most people,” said McKnight. “I’ve never met anybody in real life who thinks that clergy should not be mandatory reporters.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example, does encourage its local leaders to utilize its abuse hotline when faced with accusations or confessions of child abuse. This the directive on the church’s official website:
“The bishop or stake president should promptly call the help line about every situation in which he believes a person may have been abused or neglected or is at risk of being abused or neglected. • When bishops or stake presidents call the help line, legal and clinical professionals will answer their questions and provide instructions about how to assist victims, comply with local laws and requirements for reporting abuse, and protect against further abuse.”www.churchofjesuschrist.org
But Romero and McKnight both believe bishops and other ecclesiastical leaders – of all faiths – should be required to report directly to law enforcement.
The issue is expected to come up in the 2020 legislative session.