In deeply Mormon Utah, push to demand clergy report abuse
SALT LAKE CITY — Survivors and religious leaders rallied at the Utah State Capitol on Friday to demand changes to a state law that exempts religious leaders from reporting child sexual abuse. their attention in spiritual confessions.
“If we, as a people, as churches and as a state, fail to protect our children, then we are failing,” Lindsey Lundholm, the rally organizer, told a larger audience. of 100 people in Salt Lake City, which included abuse survivors cheering. as tears streamed down their faces.
Lundholm spoke of his direct experience of abuse growing up in Idaho as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a young girl and a member of the faith widely known as the Mormon Church, she said she spoke to a local bishop about her abuse and instead of reporting it to law enforcement, the bishop guided his assailant to ask forgiveness from God.
Lundholm’s story was one of many told on the steps of the Capitol, which stands on a hill above the church headquarters and its Salt Lake Temple. Other women also shared their stories and read aloud from written accounts collected for the protest, using them to demand that lawmakers require clergy to report abuses when they come to them.
The rally comes two weeks after an Associated Press investigation found that the church’s abuse reporting system could be misused by church leaders to deflect accusations of force abuse order and instead to the church lawyers who could bury the problem, leaving the victims in danger.
The AP story, based on sealed records and court cases filed in Arizona and West Virginia, revealed a host of concerns victims raised about the helpline. These include how church officials have cited exemptions to mandatory reporting laws, the so-called clergy-penitent privilege, as an excuse for not reporting abuse brought to their attention of children so young. only 5 years.
Since its publication, the church has criticized the story as flawed. In a statement this week, its representatives said the helpline ‘had everything to do with protecting children and had nothing to do with covering up’, but did not dispute any of the facts of the story. .
Utah is among more than 20 states with similar laws that grant reporting exceptions to clergy who receive information about child neglect or sexual abuse during spiritual confessions. The exemptions do not extend to therapists, doctors or any other adults known to offer confidential advice.
In Arizona, church attorneys are trying to use penitent clergy privilege to limit what its officials must answer questions about in a lawsuit that accuses them of conspiring to cover up child sex abuse. A judge ruled this week that church officials must answer questions.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox and lawmakers from different faiths and from both sides of the aisle recently spoke out in favor of changing the state law exempting clergy from mandatory reporting. But such a law could face an uphill battle in Utah, where the church wields considerable cultural and political influence, counts about two-thirds of residents as its members and relies on volunteers to serve as members of the clergy.
Representative Angela Romero, a Democrat whose efforts to end the exemption stalled in 2020, said Friday she remains committed to changing the law.
“I’m tired of making excuses for the perpetrators,” she said, noting that her push had recently gained support from Republican Latter-day Saints.
In addition to Romero and survivors, Friday’s rally also included a rabbi and former Latter-day Saint bishop. Stuart Smith, the bishop, said clergy could benefit from clear guidelines for reporting abuse.
“Such a requirement, codified in state law, may have the added benefit of allowing the Bishops Hotline now operated by the LDS Church to better fulfill its stated purpose — which is to provide expertise and resources to help victims of abuse,” he said. said.