Unfortunately, in many religious spaces, it is often implied to survivors of sexual abuse, violence, harassment and pedophilia that one very powerful person representing a church is more important than the innocent people they harm along the way.
After a Pennsylvania grand jury report shed light on the incredibly disturbing facts committed by Catholic clergy, the Salt Lake Diocese finally released the names of priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct, highlighting countless stories of cover-ups and child abuse.
According to the final report released in December, since 1990 there have been credible allegations of sexual abuse against 19 clergy that involved over 32 juvenile victims.
Last month, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, announced she would sponsor legislation amending current child abuse reporting requirements as they apply to religious clergy. Under current law, mandated reporting is required for any individual who observes or has reason to believe a child is being subjected to conditions which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect. In Utah, religious clergy have “a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, any confidential communication.”
Romero’s House Bill 90 would remove this exemption.
Since this announcement, Angela Romero has been targeted by a right-wing extremist group called the Catholic League. The group’s leader, Bill Donohue, a known xenophobe who justifies the Crusades and believes AIDS is self-inflicted, has put out a call to his followers (many out-of-state) to land blast Romero. This has resulted in hundreds unwarranted of emails, harassment and personal threats. Not only is this ethically wrong, it also grossly misrepresents many Catholics in Utah.
From 1990 to 2003, I was a student within Utah’s Catholic school system, attending St. Ambrose, the Cathedral of the Madeleine and Judge Memorial High School. I knew many of the priests on the credibly accused clergy list and know I’m not alone in saying it made me feel betrayed and hurt.
There’s also something to be said about learning of the horrific experiences people carried with them throughout their lives and having known nothing.
Maya Angelou once wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” With that said, I believe the time for lawmakers to take action is now. No more excuses.
The Diocese of Salt Lake is in desperate need of reform — if not a wrecking ball — and yet still, neither the Utah attorney general nor the Salt Lake County district attorney has stepped up to open investigations.
The results of the diocese’s own independent review was not thorough and did not seek out the truth in an effort to bring justice to those who had been harmed. Instead it was forced to bring into light stories that could no longer be swept under the rug. The focus was clearly on limiting liability and future lawsuits, which is another testament to why the church’s self-policing is so deeply problematic.
History repeats itself and, on a fundamental level, I do not believe there will be change without the passage of House Bill 90. While my viewpoint is from a Catholic perspective, I recognize the many voices from different faiths telling of similar experiences and stories from across the state.
The clergy child abuse reporting exemption is just as the law states — “privileged” communication, not a right. As such, people of all religions and backgrounds should be asking themselves: What is more important? Protecting a sacrament or protecting innocent children?
It is vital that we speak out for the most vulnerable among us. Please contact Rep. Angela Romero and your local representatives to let them know you support this important piece of legislation.
Megan McDonough Skiles, a freelance marketing consultant in Cottonwood Heights, graduated from Judge Memorial High School in 2003 and is a fifth generation Irish Catholic Utahn with family ties dating back to the early mining days of Summit County.