Avremi Zippel: Wouldn’t you want your faith leader to call 911?

Utah bill removing the clergy exemption for reporting abuse should be approved.

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) The Utah House of Representatives, Aug. 20, 2020.

I am the son of a clergyman and, for as long as I can remember, I aspired to call the clergy life my own.

It’s not without its challenges and sacrifices — just like with any other calling or profession. The balance that members of the clergy must navigate between doing what is right as we perceive it in the eyes of God, when that might clash with what is right as it pertains to the interest of other humans, is a difficult quandary we’ve all faced at some point in our service.

And yet. There should be situations where the clear path forward is the most straightforward.

If someone disclosed to your faith leader that he had recently lit his own home on fire and, at that very moment, the congregant’s wife and children were trapped inside, would we not all wish for a world where the sole desire of that faith leader would be to call 911? To rescue those trapped inside, facing imminent harm? There’s a time and place for the sanctity of the conversations we have with those seeking our atonement and forgiveness. That sanctity should pale in the presence of the preservation of human life.

In the current session of the Utah Legislature, our elected officials have refused to take up HB115, brought forth by House Minority Leader Angela Romero. In the most simple of terms, HB115 closes the clergy loophole around mandated reporting where “the clergy member has reason to believe that a child is, or has been, the subject of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.”

To date, if a member of the clergy learns of possible abuse or neglect in a “ministerial capacity,” the member of the clergy would be exempt from mandated reporting.The same mandated reporting that covers literally every other profession imaginable. In the past year, we have once again learned of the real harm suffered by children at the hands of clergy who failed to report abuse disclosed by an abuser. HB115 seeks to change that.

(Do me a favor. If you’re going to come at me and point out that a child facing potential abuse or neglect is not the same as the child in the burning building, hold that thought and keep it to yourself. Don’t ever share that aloud, if you’re interested in maintaining the friendships and relationships you have to date. Get yourself off of Twitter, and consider yourself fortunate that you so grossly misunderstand a topic that affects 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States. Hear it from me. The analogy is pretty darn accurate.)

There are those that will argue that this bill is some sort of punishment towards the clergy. An expression of distrust in our decision making.


I see HB115 as a tip of the cap to the enormous stressors our life’s calling has placed before us and the extremely complex, multi-faceted, multi-layered conundrums we face on a daily basis. It is precisely because of all of the above that we need the ability to remove ourselves from the subjectivity of these situations and avail ourselves of the services of professionals, just as all of our professional brothers and sisters can and must do. We may be the men and women who represent God, but it is not our job to play God. If we see smoke or know that it exists somewhere, we need to call in the firefighters.

I’m a member of the clergy, and I’ll be calling my elected officials and asking them to support HB115. I hope you choose to do the same.

Avremi Zippel

Rabbi Avremi Zippel is a survivor of child sexual abuse and advocates for victims of all kinds across the State. He currently serves as the chair of the Utah Crime Victims Council.