Rep. Phil Lyman opens a bill file to remove the exception for clergy not to report child abuse

Recent news stories have shown example after example of failed systems that should be protecting underage, vulnerable children.  

As a father, grandfather, and lawmaker, I have been keenly interested in Utah’s child protection laws and have been actively reviewing those laws over the last several months. 

According to Utah’s Child Protective Services website, “Utah law requires any person who has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse, neglect, or dependency to immediately notify the nearest office of Child and Family Services, a peace officer, or a law enforcement agency. Abuse, neglect, or dependency of a child can be physical, emotional, or sexual.”
However, State statute 62A-4a-403 specifically reads:

“Subject to Subsection (4), the reporting requirement described in Subsection (1) does not apply to:

  • (a) a member of the clergy, with regard to any confession made to the member of the clergy while functioning in the ministerial capacity of the member of the clergy and without the consent of the individual making the confession, if:
    • (i) the perpetrator made the confession directly to the member of the clergy; and
    • (ii) the member of the clergy is, under canon law or church doctrine or practice, bound to maintain the confidentiality of that confession”

This exception concerns me. While I understand and deeply value the confession process, providing an exception for clergy when it comes to reporting abuse creates unnecessary ambiguity for both the clergy member and for the person who is confessing. Worse yet, it can delay intervention for innocent victims. There are too many heartbreaking stories of abuse in Utah and across the Nation of help that never came or came too late.

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

In addition, we must review the procedures at our state agencies with whom a complaint is filed. 

I have opened a bill file, removing the exception from the duty to report abuse.  At this time, it is crucial that I hear from you on this important and sensitive issue. Please email your thoughts and comments to [email protected]