Utah Catholics oppose bill requiring priests to report child abuse

A bill that would make it mandatory for all allegations of child abuse (including those reported in religious confessionals) to be reported to authorities has sparked controversy in Utah and gained opposition from a prominent legislative leader within the state.

House Speaker Brad Wilson (R) says there’s no way he’ll support the measure as it stands, and he said so in a statement to the National Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, The Deseret News reports.

“I have serious concerns about this bill and the effects it could have on religious leaders as well as their ability to counsel members of their congregation,” he wrote. “I do not support this bill in its current form, and unless significant changes are made to ensure the protection of religious liberties, I will be voting against this bill.”

The Catholic League, a nationwide organization that defends the religious and free speech rights of Catholics, encouraged supporters to contact Wilson to voice concerns over HB90. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League says the bill will “gut the confidentiality of the confessional seal.”

Wilson was flooded with emails and it prompted him to issue Tuesday’s statement.

In the statement, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City urges Catholics to ask legislators to oppose the measure because it “forces individuals to choose between the most sacrosanct part of their religious beliefs and their imprisonment — the very situation the First Amendment was meant to protect against.”

“The motivation of the bill is understandable, to uncover and stop the abuse of children,” the statement said, “but HB90 will not have this intended effect.”

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake) said she plans to go forward with this “regardless” and added that even though she and Wilson don’t see “eye to eye,” she “looks forward” to discussing it with him. She added that the legislation doesn’t single out any specific religion. Instead, it aims to protect victims of sexual abuse.

“My concern is more about protecting children and making sure people who violate them are held accountable,” she said, “because what they’re doing is criminal.”

She said she’s hoping the bill will have a fair chance, but as it stands it isn’t clear whether the measure will be heard when the legislative session begins January 27.

“I’m hoping my colleagues will give this bill a fair hearing and they understand this is an important piece of policy,” Romero said. “I hope we can follow the lead of other states who have placed the best interests of children over religious institutions.”

If HB90 passes, it will put Utah in league with other states that have passed similar measures. North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and West Virginia have also removed confessional reporting exemptions for clergy. The Roman Catholic church and other faith organizations have opposed similar measures in other states. One such bill was removed from consideration in California after it was opposed by the Catholic Church.

Utah’s most prominent faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has not “taken a position on this specific piece of legislation,” a church spokesman said Tuesday.

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Megan Hamilton

Megan Hamilton has traveled extensively throughout the Southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. A lifelong atheist, these travels have informed her political views. She currently lives in a remote location with a large herd of cats and four dogs.