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Utah's governor signals support for bill requiring clergy to report abuse

Governor Cox
Posted at 6:29 PM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 21:09:17-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Governor Spencer Cox on Thursday signaled his support for a bill to mandate clergy to report any disclosures of abuse to the proper authorities.

Bills are being planned on Utah's Capitol Hill to remove the clergy-penitent privilege in abuse reporting laws. It follows an Associated Press investigation surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' abuse "help line" that claims the system can divert accusations away from law enforcement to church attorneys. The Latter-day Saint faith has disputed the reporting.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, told FOX 13 News that she was re-filing a bill she initially brought forward in 2020. The bill faced significant and heated pushback from faith-based groups.

This year, she is not alone in pushing the issue. Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, said he was also planning a similar piece of legislation. Utah is a state that mandates that any disclosure of abuse be reported to either law enforcement or the Division of Child & Family Services. However, there are some exemptions in the law for someone who may be making a confession to a faith leader.

On Thursday, Gov. Cox was asked about the issue at his monthly news conference and signaled support for the bill. While cautioning he has not seen any bill language, he indicated he might be willing to sign it should it pass the legislature and cross his desk.

"We’re deeply concerned about abuse wherever it occurs and I think we all have a duty to speak out and to protect our children and our most vulnerable," the governor said. "If this is something that would help that, we should all be supportive."

On Thursday, a judge in an Arizona abuse lawsuit ruled the Latter-day Saint Church may not refuse to answer questions or refuse to turn over documents under that state's clergy-penitent reporting laws.