SALT LAKE CITY (UT)
i /inews.co.uk [London, England]
March 25, 2023
By Daniel Bates
A plan to force religious leaders to report accounts of sexual abuse to police has stalled in Utah, where a majority of politicians are members of the Mormon faith
It was supposed to be the law that would finally force clergy in Utah to report sexual abuse if a member their congregation admitted it to them.
HB 115 would have put religious leaders in the same bracket as therapists and doctors with a legal requirement to contact the police.
But in Utah, where 89 of 103 state lawmakers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, the President of the State Senate, Stuart Adams, himself a member of the church, simply refused to bring it to the floor, effectively killing it.
Democrats who sponsored the bill said that it was evidence of the powerful effect of lobbying by the Mormon and Catholic churches.
Rep Angela Romero, who is a Democrat, told i: “I was raised Catholic, I was baptised, I was confirmed, but as a policymaker and someone who works on issues of sexual assault I just see a lot of people not being held accountable and they go on to reoffend.
“What I’m trying to stop is this cycle of abuse.”
The events in Utah come as the UK grapples with a similar questions about the responsibilities of clergy to report child abuse. In October the Government-established Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse recommended that priests should be legally obliged to report abuse even if it meant violating the seal of confession.
According to the report, which took years to complete: “Failure to report in those circumstances should be a criminal offence.”
In Utah it was cases like that of Paul Adams which sparked Ms Romero’s efforts to change the law.
According to a lawsuit filed in Arizona, Mr Adams admitted to two Mormon bishops in 2010 that he was abusing his own family. While one bishop reported the abuse to an “abuse helpline” he was advised not to report it to the police, it is claimed.
That meant Mr Adams was able to continue raping his older daughter and her younger sister for seven years and posting the videos online before he was finally apprehended.
The case of Mr Adams, who killed himself in 2017, shows why reforms are so needed said Lynne Cadigan, a lawyer representing his family.
“If the bishop had reported it and the cops had gone out and grabbed his computers they would have stopped the abuse,” she said. “The Mormon church is simply trying to protect their financial assets.
“They don’t want to be sued, they don’t want to be held accountable under secular law.
“What’s more important? Stopping the rape of 16-year-olds or letting men chit chat to their bishops about raping their children?”
But in the State Senate it ran up against the fact that there is not only a Republican supermajority, but a Mormon supermajority as well.
Ms Romero tried to introduce her bill into the legislative session in January but was told it would not be allocated any floor time.
Despite criticism of her by conservative groups like the Catholic League, Ms Romero said she would reintroduce it next year. “This is an issue we can’t continue to ignore,” she said.
The key reason for the resistance to change is a collision of two incompatible values, said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.
Those values are the “need to protect children and the need to protect sacraments of religious practices” and the Mormon church is not unique.
Mr Finkelhor said: “American politicians have been very deferential to religion over the years and freedom of religion is very strong here.
“There are changes that are happening as a result of the scandals but also because the portion of people who are unaffiliated to a church has been growing dramatically.
“My hunch is that the confessional exemption will become weakened in a variety of ways if not completely eliminated but it will take time.”
State Senate President Adams did not return a request for comment from i.
During a press conference last month, he claimed that clergy have First Amendment protections that should not be violated under any circumstances.
He said: “I don’t want to put clergy in a spot where they have to be excommunicated or thrown in jail. Those are the options and I don’t think that’s right.”