UTAH (ABC4) – A Utah representative is aiming to make changes to state law to require clergy members to turn over reports of child abuse to law enforcement.

On Friday morning, Representative Phil Lyman (R-Blanding) released a statement saying he had opened a bill file for the legislation.

The statement explains that “According to Utah’s Child Protective Services website, ‘Utah law requires any person who has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse, neglect, or dependency to immediately notify the nearest office of Child and Family Services, a peace officer, or a law enforcement agency. Abuse, neglect, or dependency of a child can be physical, emotional, or sexual.” 

However, Utah clergy are exempt from this requirement if the reports are made to them through confession.

“I believe lawmakers, regardless of religious or political affiliation, must revisit this critical state statute to provide much-needed clarity in the law. Families and individuals devastated by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse should find safety and protection in the law, not loopholes,” Lyman explains.  

Lyman’s announcement comes in the wake of an article from the Associated Press, which claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints kept claims of abuse against church members away from law enforcement.

In the article published last week, the Associated Press obtained court documents that allegedly show the complaints reported to the church’s helpline were diverted to the church’s attorneys, who “may bury the problem, leaving victims in harm’s way.”

The Church later disputed the AP’s report, releasing the following statement:

The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes this, teaches this, and dedicates tremendous resources and efforts to prevent, report and address abuse. Our hearts break for these children and all victims of abuse.

The nature and the purpose of the Church’s help line was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article. The help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met. It provides a place for local leaders, who serve voluntarily, to receive direction from experts to determine who should make a report and whether they (local leaders) should play a role in that reporting. When a leader calls the help line, the conversation is about how to stop the abuse, care for the victim and ensure compliance with reporting obligations, even in cases when the law provides clergy-penitent privilege or restricts what can be shared from private ecclesiastical conversations.

The help line is just one of many safeguards put in place by the Church. Any member serving in a role with children or youth is required to complete a training every few years about how to watch for, report and address abuse. Leaders and members are offered resources on how to prevent, address and report abuse of any kind. Church teachings and handbooks are clear and unequivocal about the evils of abuse. Members who violate those teachings are disciplined by the Church and may lose their privileges or membership. These are just a few examples.The story presented in the AP article is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts. We will continue to teach and follow Jesus Christ’s admonition to care for one another, especially in our efforts related to abuse.”