Aug 22, 2022 - News

Abuse survivors, religious leaders call for end to Utah's "clergy exception"

Illustration of the Utah State Capitol with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Sex abuse survivors, religious leaders and policymakers gathered at the Utah Capitol Friday to call for an end to a reporting exception in state law that doesn't require clergy members to alert law enforcement of child abuse.

State of play: Unlike peace officers and doctors, clergy members are exempt from reporting child abuse or neglect to authorities if they learned about it through a religious confession.

Background: The protest comes weeks after the Associated Press published an investigation alleging leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints failed to inform authorities about ongoing sex abuse in Arizona and West Virginia.

What they're saying: Rabbi Avrohom "Avremi" Zippel, who was sexually abused as a child by his nanny, said there's no reason why clergy should be exempt from reporting and called on faith leaders to put children's safety first.

  • "We're so committed to connecting people to God that at times, mistakenly, we try to play God," he said.
  • Stuart Smith, a former Latter-day Saint bishop, said he supported "legislation that will better protect our children and youth from abuse in any form."

Between the lines: Child abuse can happen at home or among trusted community members, Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) said. She plans to reintroduce a bill that would require faith leaders to report child abuse.

  • "There have been so many people that have known things that have happened — even in my own family — where they didn't want to break up a home … and I'm tired of that. I'm tired of making excuses for perpetrators," she said.
  • Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox said he would potentially back and sign a bill requiring clergy to report child abuse.

What's next: Rep. Phil Lyman (R-Blanding) also plans to author a bill to end the "clergy exemption" and work with Romero.

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