An obscure section of Utah law recently piqued Ryan McKnight’s interest after he heard stories about the mishandling of sexual abuse in Mormon communities.
One part of the state code in particular stuck out to McKnight, who is one of the co-founders of MormonLeaks and its parent organization Truth or Transparency. Clergy, as members of the general public, are expected to report abuse when they are approached by a victim, he learned.
“However clergy are exempted from calling the authorities when it is the perpetrator who makes the confession,” McKnight said.
Through MormonLeaks, McKnight has been at the center of a number of sexual misconduct stories related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including a former missionary accusing a Mormon leader of raping her in the 80s and a recent view into how the LDS Church’s law firm, Kirton McConkie, handles internal reports of abuse.
This week McKnight sent a letter to every state lawmaker imploring legislators to remove this exemption. He also asked that they clearly designate all clergy as mandatory abuse reporters no matter the circumstance. He even included a copy of the current code with suggested revisions.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a federally funded organization, only 12 of out of 50 states require mandatory reporting for clergy without any exemptions.
McKnight thinks churches should welcome the change because it takes the responsibility of responding to abuse off their shoulders.
“And it in no way removes the ability from the perpetrator to seek repentance,” McKnight said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not issued a response.
Jean Hill, a spokesperson for Salt Lake’s Catholic Diocese, said she would be concerned if lawmakers attempted to legislate the relationship between “priest and penitent.”