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Utah lawmaker proposing clergy be required to report child abuse

Posted at 11:34 AM, Aug 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-12 19:57:08-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Citing the "failed systems" that don't protect underage children, a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives is proposing to require clergy to report cases of child abuse.

In a news release Friday, Rep. Phil Lyman (R-Blanding) said that while he understands the value of the confession process between clergy and followers, the exception not requiring abuse reporting "creates unnecessary ambiguity" and "can delay intervention for innocent victims."

Lyman has opened a bill file to no longer exempt clergy from following Utah state law in which people are required to report child abuse, neglect, or dependency.

"There are too many heartbreaking stories of abuse in Utah and across the Nation of help that never came or came too late," wrote Lyman. "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."

In an interview with FOX 13 News after the announcement, Lyman reiterated his thoughts about the law being somewhat confusing when someone is at risk.

"It creates some subjectivity and ambiguity in an area of the law that really can't afford to have ambiguity and subjectivity there," said Lyman. "I don't think it's fair to the clergy that are in that position or to the person who's confessing."

Lyman's proposal comes a week after an Associated Press report offered details from a lawsuit filed against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in which a father allegedly admitted to his bishop that he had been sexually abusing his young daughter. The report claims the bishop was told by church lawyers not to report the father to police or welfare officials.

Church officials responded to the report in a statement last week, claiming the article "is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts.

"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."

Democratic Rep. Angela Romero sponsored a similar bill in 2020. She told FOX 13 News on Friday that she has no problem with Lyman or anyone else bringing up similar proposals.

"This is really about children and protecting children, and holding perpetrators accountable and ensuring that they're not being protected by an institution, whether it's intentional or not," said Romero.

Rep. Romero says pushing this bill through the legislature could be an uphill battle.

“This is not going to be an easy bill, regardless of whether you’re Republican or Democrat, because you’re going up against religious institutions who feel like by not doing an exemption that you’re going to compromise them and their religious beliefs, which is not the case.”

Rep. Lyman adds that he hopes this announcement serves as a starting point to have discussions with other lawmakers, people and religious institutions to find solutions that everyone can get behind.

“In my mind, it’s fairly black and white. Take out the exemption and then let the various churches respond in their policy at how to work under the new context of that and I think they would find very productive ways of doing that.

FOX 13 News reached out to churches for comment. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not return inquiries, while representatives with the Catholic Church said they can only speak once there is a bill to review.