LDS bishops and other clergy could be required to report child abuse under proposed bill

Rep. Phil Lyman says he’ll sponsor legislation to remove the exemption for clergy members in Utah’s child abuse reporting law.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, wants to remove a carve-out in Utah’s child protection laws that allows clergy members not to report suspected child abuse.

Utah law requires anyone who knows of or suspects abuse or neglect to report it to the state or law enforcement. Clergy members are exempted from the mandatory reporting requirement if someone confesses to them while “functioning in the ministerial capacity.”

In a news release, the Republican said he was concerned about recent news stories about how laws protecting children from abuse have failed. Providing an exemption for clergy members when reporting abuse is problematic.

“There are too many heartbreaking stories of abuse in Utah and across the nation,” Lyman said, “of help that never came or came too late.”

An Associated Press investigation into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ handling of child sex abuse cases revealed how church leaders used a “help line” to keep abuse accusations against members from being reported to law enforcement. The church pushed back vociferously against the allegations, calling the article “oversimplified and incomplete.”

Lyman said in a text message to The Salt Lake Tribune that one story was not the impetus for wanting to remove the clergy exception from the law.

In addition to removing the clergy exemption, Lyman says the state needs to examine procedures at state agencies on how complaints are handled.

“I believe lawmakers, regardless of religious or political affiliation, must revisit this critical state statute to provide much-needed clarity in the law,” Lyman said. “Families and individuals devastated by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse should find safety and protection in the law, not loopholes.”

Lyman says he’s opened a bill file to address the issue in the 2023 legislative session.

This is not the first time lawmakers have attempted to remove the reporting exemption for clergy members. In 2020, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored similar legislation, but that bill died without receiving a committee hearing.

Romero has also opened a bill file to remove the clergy exception from the abuse reporting laws. Lyman says he will let Romero take the lead on the issue if she decides to push ahead with her version of the measure.