Churches fight to keep a legal loophole on sexual abuse reporting.
Churches fight to keep a legal loophole on sexual abuse reporting.

Utah: Pastors who gathered after a mass prayer Sunday evening at the Catholic Newman Center in Salt Lake City warned that their right to private confession was at risk.

The priest warned that a new law would break that sacred bond and asked the parishioners to sign a one-page form letter on their way out. "I/We oppose HB90," began the letter, which was placed with the envelopes already addressed. "HB90 is an unfair government intrusion into the practice of religion in Utah."

The Catholic Diocese of Utah, which oversees dozens of churches, claims to have collected 9,000 signed letters from parishioners and given them to State Representative Angela Romero, a Democrat, as part of her campaign against child sexual abuse. I was working on the bill.

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HB90 targeted Utah's "clergy-atonement privilege," a law similar to many other states that exempts clergy of all denominations from reporting child abuse if they learn about it in a confessional setting.

Catholic leaders in Utah organized a protest against HB90, claiming it jeopardized the sacred secrecy of confession. More importantly, it faced opposition from some members of the powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church, whose adherents make up the vast majority of the state legislature. HB90 died on arrival.

Clergy are exempt from laws that require professionals such as teachers, physicians and psychiatrists to report information about alleged child sexual abuse to police or child welfare authorities in 33 states if the church considers the information to be privileged.

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This loophole has allowed an unknown number of poachers to continue abusing children for years, despite confessing to religious authorities. Many of these cases have used the privilege to protect religious groups from civil and criminal liability following the discovery of abuse by civil authorities.

An Associated Press review found that over the past two decades, state lawmakers like Romero have proposed more than 130 bills to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws.

All of them either targeted the loophole and failed to close it, or, despite strong opposition from religious groups, amended the mandatory reporting statute without addressing clergy privilege.

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The Associated Press found that the Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege, and influential Mormons and members of Jehovah's Witnesses have used it in areas Has also worked in state homes and courts to preserve. where their membership is high.

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