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Clergy abuse reporting bill gets tweaked, but Catholic church likely to oppose it

Posted at 4:47 PM, Feb 09, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would mandate clergy report disclosures of abuse will be modified, but it may not be enough to win over its critics.

House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, told FOX 13 News on Thursday she is amending her bill to only mandate that disclosures of child sexual abuse and exploitation be reported to law enforcement. She confirmed that would remove any requirement clergy report physical abuse.

"It focuses on child sex abuse, so clergy would have to report if it's child sex abuse," Rep. Romero said, adding the decision was made with the support of sexual abuse survivors and victim advocates she has been working with.

The House Minority Leader's bill is one of four pieces of legislation that have been filed in the Utah State Legislature following recent cases of sexual abuse involving faith groups in the state, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It would enshrine into law a mandate that clergy report disclosures of abuse to police to investigate.

But none of the bills have gotten traction in the legislature so far. In years past, Rep. Romero's bill has faced heated opposition from groups that back the Catholic church, who argue it pierces the confessional and priest-penitent privilege.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful political and cultural influence in Utah, told FOX 13 News on Thursday it had no position on the bill. In a letter to Catholic faithful, Bishop Oscar Solis of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, said he opposed the bill.

"The proposed legislation is an intrusion into our fundamental right to the free exercise of our religion and goes against the long-standing tradition of our Catholic Church and other faith denominations who take very seriously the seal of confidentiality as a sacred trust that cannot be violated even at the cost of liberty and death," he wrote.

Bishop Solis urged members to contact lawmakers to oppose the bill, insisting disclosures of abuse are already reported.

"Furthermore, the Catholic Church believes that sexual misconduct of any kind by Church personnel is an affront to human dignity of the person and the mission of the Church. The spiritual well-being of all victims, their families and others in the community is always of particular concern to the Church. The Diocese of Salt Lake City takes allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors and vulnerable persons seriously."

Rep. Romero said she hoped the bill would move forward and expressed a willingness to talk to faith groups about concerns.

"I really hope this bill gets a hearing. It’s a critical bill," she said. "It's a conversation we need to have and I'll continue to bring the bill every year I'm up here."