Utah lawmakers advance clergy abuse reporting bill after emotional hearing

Feb 9, 2024, 5:20 PM | Updated: 6:47 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill giving clergy in Utah more leeway to report child abuse is moving forward.

After an emotional hearing Friday afternoon, a House committee unanimously approved HB432, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Loubet, R-Kearns.

“If we can do something,” Loubet said, pausing to collect himself, “if we could do something to help these children be able to heal, to be able to stop what’s happened to them, then I am for it.”

Loubet’s bill gives clergy the option of reporting ongoing abuse or neglect – even if they learn about it during a confession.

Past efforts to address this issue have gone nowhere on Utah’s Capitol Hill. But in a notable move, neither The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City are opposing HB432.

Rep Anthony Loubet

Rep. Anthony Loubet, R-Kearns is the sponsor of HB432. He became emotional as he discussed his bill in Friday’s committee meeting. (Tanner Siegworth, KSL TV)

Abuse survivors spoke in support of the change to state law, which also aims to protect spiritual leaders from criminal liability or lawsuits if they do report.

“I was not protected by my clergy,” said Crystal Young, who said she had been abused. “I’m really grateful for this bill that gives them the opportunity and I hope will encourage clergy to be able to report and be willing to report.”

Kim Brannon also identified herself as an abuse survivor and urged lawmakers to support the bill.

“My perpetrator was someone I knew and loved and had responsibility for my well-being and safety,” Brannon said. “My abuse was never reported to any legal authority. Everything was in place to protect my perpetrator, and I was left at 16 years old to deal with this on my own.”

While the House committee unanimously approved the bill, not everyone supports it.

“We’ve seen the other side of the coin,” said Steven Burton with the Utah Defense Attorneys Association, noting that abusers often seek help from church leaders.

“If there is no avenue for somebody to seek for help, then essentially there is an increased likelihood that that behavior will go deeper underground and may never be reported, may never come to light,” Burton said, “And that person may never get the help that they are so desperately seeking to stop that abuse.”

Mark Moffat, a defense attorney, echoed that.

“Through this bill, we are taking away from them a means to get the help that they need,” Moffat said. “This is the only place they can go.”

But that argument didn’t sway lawmakers.

“Children cannot advocate for themselves,” said Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo. “They need systems in place to help them.”

“As a society, we have to stop protecting the perpetrators,” added Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan. “That is essential.”

The bill now heads to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

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Utah lawmakers advance clergy abuse reporting bill after emotional hearing