Another Utah bill allowing clergy to report abuse emerges. LDS, Catholic churches are not blocking it

This measure would shield faith leaders from criminal and civil liability.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cathedral of Madeleine in the Salt Lake City is shown in 2021. A Utah bill would protect faith leaders from civil and criminal liability if they report abuse even if the information comes via the confessional.

Even if priests, pastors, bishops or any other Utah faith leaders learn about ongoing child abuse from a perpetrator during a confession, they can report it to police, and without fear of facing civil or criminal liability.

That’s if the Utah Legislature approves Rep. Anthony Loubet’s HB432, which has advanced and is poised for a hearing Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee.

Currently, Utah law does not require clergy to report abuse they learn about in confessions — repeated attempts to erase that exemption have failed — but there is nothing on the state’s books that prevents them from notifying authorities.

A key element of Loubet’s bill is that clergy who choose to report information about child abuse they hear in confession “are protected from civil and criminal liability,” the Kearns Republican said this week. It is a way to “reward those who are already reporting abuse and neglect, and it will incentivize others who want to report.”

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City “does not oppose the bill regarding child abuse and neglect reporting that is being proposed,” it said in a statement, “as it is originally written.”

The diocese remains “concerned about the possibility that the language could be changed to require that Catholic priests report such abuse even if they have learned about the abuse solely during the sacrament of confession,” it added. “If this requirement were to become law, Catholic priests would face the untenable choice of breaking the law or being excommunicated.”

For its part, Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does not oppose Loubet’s measure either.

It is the second bill put forward this session about clergy reporting abuse and neglect discovered during confession.

The first one, HB131, was introduced by Rep. Brian King, which also was meant to encourage more reporting by reminding Latter-day Saint bishops and other clergy that if they want to report suspected abuse, they might be in trouble with their church, but not from the law.

“Church policies are distinct from legal obligations,” said the Salt Lake City Democrat, who is running for governor this year. Though their churches might not like it, “clergy don’t have to follow [ecclesiastical] policy.”

A main difference in the two bills is that Loubet’s proposal involves only confessions of “ongoing abuse and neglect,” not previous ones, and the indemnification of liability for reporting. King’s measure could apply to earlier abuse and makes no mention of liability.

Loubet said he put forward his legislation after talking to constituents during the interim sessions and to House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who previously proposed several bills — which never advanced — that would require clergy to report abuse.

The outcome “is not guaranteed,” Loubet said, but “I am hopeful.”

His bill did emerge from the House Rules Committee, he said, “which is further than any of the past bills.”