SALT LAKE CITY – The Diocese of Salt Lake City is fighting a proposed bill that would require clergy to report disclosures of child abuse and neglect, even if that means revealing the contents of someone’s confession.
House Bill 90 modifies provisions relating to reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect. It deletes provisions that exempt, under certain circumstances, a member of the clergy from being required to report child abuse and neglect.
House Speaker Brad Wilson opposes the bill in its current form. He’s received hundreds of emails, mostly from people who live outside of the state of Utah.
“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,” Wilson said in the statement to the Catholic League.
“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 bill is sponsored by Representative Angela Romero, who is Catholic. She said her bill does not target Catholics specifically, but instead is aimed at protecting all victims of sexual abuse.
“I understand the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Again, that’s part of who I am,” she said. “But at the same time, I can’t let people continuously hurt children and it doesn’t only hurt those children. It hurts our society and our communities.”
“Maybe this is a little more personal for me. I’ve had victims here in Utah, people who have experienced and sexual assault and child abuse. Their perpetrators were protected by a religious institutions,” she continued. “I have a problem with that.”
The Diocese of Salt Lake City, which is home to over 300,000 Catholics, petitioned Catholics to ask their legislators to oppose the bill.
“The motivation for the bill is understandable, to uncover and stop the abuse of children, but HB90 will not have this intended effect,” Jean Hill, Director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Peace and Justice Commission, wrote in the Diocesan newspaper, Intermountain Catholic.
“HB90 is a bad law that does nothing to protect children and undermines the very real possibility that a sex offender might repent, thus allowing the priest to counsel him/her to seek help from police and trained personnel, making the world a bit safer for vulnerable children.” Hill continued.
“We must resist the intrusion of civil authorities into the sacred domain of personal conscience and religious practice.”