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‘We are here to protect children’ — In wake of story about abuse in LDS Church, Utahns protest clergy exemption

The rally, calling for mandatory reporting of child sex abuse, comes after an AP report revealed that the faith’s “help line” failed to protect sex abuse victims.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters gather on the steps of the Capitol for a rally to gain support for removing the clergy exemption from mandatory reporting in cases of abuse and neglect on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.

Scores of Utahns gathered on the state Capitol steps Friday night with a plea.

That plea, written across a yellow banner, read “We petition the Lord and President Nelson, protect LDS children.”

The demonstration, drawing about 100 protesters and hosted by Mandate Clergy Reporting, came after a recent Associated Press report revealed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used a “help line” in a number of cases to keep sexual abuse accusations against members from being reported to law enforcement.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters gather on the steps of the Capitol, for a rally to gain support for removing the clergy exemption from mandatory reporting in cases of abuse and neglect, on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.

And during Friday’s rally, political and religious leaders alike urged lawmakers to close a loophole within Utah law that allows clergy to not report suspected child abuse.

Lindsey Lundholm, a survivor of childhood sex abuse, told the crowd that the AP article “hit close to home” for her and many others. Lundholm grew up in Idaho in a large Latter-day Saint family and said clergy members knew about her abuse but didn’t report it.

“Every day in my personal life, I work to overcome the trauma from my abuse and how it was handled by the trusted adults in my life,” Lundholm said. “We are not here today to persecute any church. We are here to protect children. We are not anti-clergy or anti-church. We are pro-keeping children safe.”

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has already opened a bill file to remove the clergy exception from the abuse reporting laws. Romero sponsored similar legislation in 2020, but that bill died without receiving a committee hearing.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Free cookies at rally to gain support for removing the clergy exemption from mandatory reporting in cases of abuse and neglect, on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.

During Friday’s rally, Romero said Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, and Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, have also voiced support to close the loophole.

“I want people to know that this is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” Romero said. “I want to make sure that nobody feels like nobody’s listening to them.”

Lundholm said in her experience with abuse, she received many spoken and unspoken messages to move on, forget or be silent about what happened. But she’s now breaking that silence to make sure survivors of abuse know they have support.

“If we as a people, as churches, as a state, are failing to protect our children — we are failing,” Lundholm said. “We are deeply heartbroken for those that were not protected because of the legal exceptions that are given to members of clergy. ... Today, we are here for you to make sure that no future child is left without that protection again.”

The LDS Church, led by President Russell M. Nelson, has criticized the AP story, insisting it had “significant flaws in its facts and timeline, which lead to erroneous conclusions.” In a recent news release, the Utah-based faith said it has “no tolerance for any suggestion that we are neglectful or not doing enough on the issue of child abuse.”

The AP has stated that it “stands by its story.