Clergy are not required to disclose to police sexual abuse disclosed to them in confession

Clergy-penitent privilege exists in dozens of states. But does that law protect abusers?


The non-profit behind the controversial MormonLeaks website is fighting a longstanding Utah exemption that would make it easier for clergy to avoid reporting child sexual abuse.

The Truth and Transparency Foundation has launched a petition demanding Utah legislators drop the so-called “clergy exemption” from current laws governing the mandatory reporting of child abuse. This exemption currently frees religious leaders from having to disclose abuse gleamed from perpetrators during confession; something the group has characterized as “an affront to the safety and well-being of abuse survivors that “provides an environment where predators are enabled.”

Is Confession Sacred?

Detailed grand jury allegations of abuse by some 300 Catholic priests and church workers involving 1,000 minors over a 70-year period have rocked Pennsylvania. The state’s attorney general called it a “systematic cover-up” that ran right up to the Vatican itself.

Closer to home for petition supporters, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City has recently admitted receiving “credible allegations” of sexual abuse involving 16 priests in the last three decades, two of which surfaced this year. And MormonLeaks itself revealed similar accusations against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah’s predominant faith. One of those documents revealed a reluctance to notify police about a missionary who confessed to touching and kissing a 15-year-old girl. “It seems to show that the Church’s main concern is its image and the aftereffects of this abuse, as opposed to the focus being on the victims,” explained MormonLeaks founder Ryan McKnight.

While every state in the country has similar mandatory reporting laws, the Child Welfare Information Gateway points out that 38 of these currently exempt clergy. The Truth and Transparency Foundation insist clergy “typically and intentionally avoid reporting abuse to law enforcement except in states where they are required to do so.”

Whether or not Utah’s 300,000-plus Catholics believe removing the clergy exemption will solve the problem is harder to answer.

While Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City spokeswoman Jean Hill would rather not comment on any hypothetical legislation, she insists her church “would be very concerned if lawmakers attempted to legislate the relationship between priest and penitent and to debate the merits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

In other words, maintaining sanctity seems to trump protecting children.

Protecting the Innocent

There seems to be no middle ground. Remember, all the scandals mentioned above reveal just how difficult it is to have church leaders dole out justice, let alone police themselves.

While there is something to be said about respecting the sanctity of Catholic or Mormon confession, the fact remains that allowing current exemptions will only encourage guilty perpetrators to confess their crimes without fear of reprisal and allow priests the latitude to preserve the secrets of churchgoers who deserve no such thing.

Any church leader who is serious about stemming child abuse must get behind the petition in question. In a secular nation of laws, there is nothing more sanctimonious than giving a feeble wink and nod to the protection of society’s voiceless.

52 comments

  1. Lionheart says:

    Of course! Why change now? They’ve got away with it for centuries. They know there’s no god, no heaven, and no Hell or they wouldn’t be doing it. I’m sure that Mr Pope is just as wrapped up in it all, so let’s just shove it under the carpet to see if it will go away.

    1. Thomas says:

      If there is no God, then why did the Almighty leave a message in our DNA, GOD left a message that uses the Arimic text That Jesus spoke as the key to unlocking the message. Look up Gregg Braden on YouTube to get your answers.

      1. Lionheart says:

        I’m sure you mean Aramaic text Mr Thomas, but that aside, I know of Gregg Braden, and I find his “theories” too hypothetical for me. He also makes a claim that the magnetic polarity of the earth is about to reverse. He has also argued that human emotions affect DNA and that collective prayer may have healing physical effects.

        All very interesting theories! In the meantime Hasidic Jews will still keep praying and nodding to a stone wall in Israel, (The Wailing Wall). Perhaps their praying and nodding to that stone wall has affected their DNA that controls their brains Mr Thomas. What do you think?

        You could be right! Perhaps if you speak to an imaginary friend long enough it can send you totally way round the bend like these Priests, or Benny Hinn and his followers who now enjoy being tapped on the head so that they can fall over. It sounds to me that this “praying” thing can be very dangerous to ones health.

        I think I’ll stay well away from it, I wouldn’t want it to start clouding my ability to think clearly. If I did start talking to an imaginary friend I might start thinking that he has left a secret message inside my DNA. That scenario might make a great plot for a wonderful scary movie though.

  2. tom says:

    If all religion is is a gathering place run by pedophiles the shouldn’t report sexual abuse but they should also be required to inform laypeople of this fact so they can decide whether they are going to joing or not. Informed concern becomes all important.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Pedophilia exists in, and out, of the church. It’s just that Catholic Priests have the perfect scenario to keep it under wraps (excuse the pun). I’m sure it exisists in other religious cultures. What amazes me is that parents know it exists, but still send their little boys (and girls) to choir practice and other church events for children where there is no parenting. They seem to be as dumb as their ability to know that religion is false. It’s as though they have no intelligence and just lead their little lambs to the slaughter because their “faith” tells them it’s okay.

      1. Carl Elfstrom says:

        You hit the nail on the head that time, Lionheart. The parents of those kids must be iether gullable,or unassuming. Although they know it happens they might not think it will happen to them,or they’ve come to think highly of their priest, and never noticed his cock breath ( possibly because it smelled like their own). It’s most unlikely that they sent their children to Sunday School with instructions to be good children today by letting Father BJ go down on y’all.

  3. Gary Hynous says:

    This isn’t about priest and confessor, it;s about pedophile and victim. Priests should be “outed” by their victims immediately in order to stop the perpetrators in their tracks. If this has been discovered in one state, imagine what we would find in the other 49! Many of the children of our family have been victims of the horrible and damaging abuse. It doesn’t get better with time as it stays in the memory forever. This abuse lasts a lifetime. Pedophile priests should be defrocked and prosecuted. Glad I’m no longer a Catholic and never was a Mormon. Will this never stop? Maybe priests should be allowed to marry although this doesn’t really stop pedophiles..

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      I’m glad I’m not a Roman Catholic anymore too, Gary. However, once or twice a year, on Christmas and Easter, I like to put on a suit and ride my bicycle two and a half miles to St. Mary’s Cathedral-Basilica, here in Galveston, that many of my relatives on my mother’s fathers side of my family (Pistone & Vasallo) attend, and my second cousin John Pistone is the deacon. I only do it for a family reunion, and to give the arrogant and irreverent clergy something to pray about. You should see their look of disdain, when to their dismay I introduce myself as an interfaith minister of the ULC, then put my nose in the air, and walk right past them, while everyone else is bowing down (at least figuratively) to kiss their feet. I just thought y’all might like to know about that, and how I’m carrying the message all the way down here in Galveston, Texas. Amen and Blessed be !

  4. ET says:

    If the law states that certain confessions to a professional counselor are not privileged and must be reported, then it becomes the duty of the professional to report it. The professional must ethically warn the confessor prior to the confession that certain confessions will not be protected. (Substitute priest, minister, rabbi or any other person in religious authority).

    In my view a law protecting children, is a good idea. Also, it puts the heavy burden of keeping the secret on the perpetrator, and not the clergy. The laws of our country trump (no pun intended) the practices of any religion. (Stoning adulterers is not legal in this country, but condoned by some who claim religious authority).

  5. I'll never tell says:

    Take them out hunting. wops i shot him by mistake. Looked like a deer to me. Sorry, the devil msfe me do it.

  6. Barry says:

    Hell no !
    You want to play, you have to PAY !

    Lock them up !

  7. John Owens says:

    First, people should not be talking other humans about absolution, unless it is the same people they have wronged.

    Since so many have been deceived dnto believing in the auricular confession, then normal foibles should be sacrosanct, but CRIMES should not be, particularly crimes against children, rape, murder, mugging, burglary, other theft. Just my two cents.

  8. Dr. J Pace says:

    Considering ‘Christians’ are supposed to be the standard in morals and ethics (I can’t believe I said that with a straight face), I would think they would be more compelled to report sexual abuse than anyone. But we’ve all seen how that goes..

  9. I'll never tell says:

    what good will that do? 3 hot meals a day free medical care.
    Even if they were to get BUBA as a room.mate . They would like getting raped so no prison is too good for them. Tie them over an open fire where they are just above the fire. Baste their feet with butter. Let their feet cook over the fire until their flesh burns off the bones.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Wow!! I wouldn’t like to meet you down a dark alley. You wouldn’t happen to be a Christian would you? I know many of them had hidden sadistic traits like that during the reformation/inquisition. Their imagination for torture were horrendous.

      1. I 'll never tell says:

        No, I saw that in a book once. At the time I thought
        OMG that’s just plain crazy.
        But now it seems to be fit punishment . Or make them break big rocks into little rocks all day. But to just lock them in a cell with a tv radio and snack food off the commissary sheet isnt bad enough punishment

        1. I know, been there, done that says:

          In the state of Connecticut inmates are not forced to hold a job. If they want they can just lie around and watch tv all day. If they have family sending them money they don’t need to work. They get out for rec periods and go either outside or to the gym. Connecticut prisons have weight rooms where the inmates go to work out. So how is this punishment? In one Connecticut prison there is a 50 and over block. There it’s a dorm set up. The inmate is never locked up and can move about in the unit from 7:15 am to 11:00Pm. The phones are on from 8am to about 10:30pm. They can shower any time from 7:15am to 10:30 pm
          There is a tv on the wall plus you can have your own tv. They have games to play like chess sorry connet 4 and cards. The only time they have to be on their bunk is at count time and at lights out.
          Of course this block has requirements. You must be ticket free to get in there. That means no disciplinary action against you for any reason. And you have to be 50 or over. They have a Hot pot for hot water that’s for them to make coffee or their oodle noodle soups. The sell cup a soups on the commissary sheet. Flavored coffee creamers. French vinella and Hazel nut. And for lnmates who can’t have suger Sweet and Low.
          It’s a country club.

          1. John Owens says:

            Sounds like luxury spas for ne’er-do-wells.

  10. Rev. Buzz says:

    The slippery slope looms large again. If church hierarchy is to report pedophiles, then is there a stopping point for what should and shouldn’t be reported? What about murder, rape, incest, spousal abuse, adultery, or any other secularly declared crime that is confessed. The priest in a confessional is being put in the place of the judge and jury to determine if he can offer absolution for a contrite sinner. That should not be a position he should be in. At best the priest is an intermediary between the sinner and god. He can serve that purpose as well as report crimes as well as any other citizen is able. Will this cause a sinner to distrust confessing to a priest for fear of being reported to the police. Of course, but that is an indication that the sinner is only sorry enough to confess to god, but not sorry enough to confess to the judicial system and pay the price for their sins.

  11. Tom says:

    Respectfully this is the same as the attorney-client privilege; crimes should be reported…there is no sanctity in hiding crimes; especially these types of crimes…Peace…Tom

  12. Tom says:

    ULCJoseph…it is a little strange that my last 3 comments have been “moderated”….?????…Tom

    1. Rev. Buzz says:

      Tom,
      You are not the only one. I had an entire lengthy post omitted. While I can see the need for a certain degree of decency to be observed, having myself admonished two bickering, name calling posters, I believe if the administrator of these postings is going to modify or entirely delete a posting, there should be an obligation to notify the poster of the reason for such action. Otherwise it is frustrating for posters who don’t understand what posting rule(s) they may have violated. Do That Which Is Right.

      1. Carl Elfstrom says:

        I can see how two more posters might soon disappear from this blog , and never be heard from again.

      2. Tom says:

        Rev. Buzz…i agree…that seems reasonable to me…Peace…Tom

  13. b0blf says:

    ‘Privileged communication’ between a priest and a communicant. is NOT a barrier to reporting sexual abuse to the authorities. Priests have the right, obligation and responsibility to report any activity/confession which is a crime and/or which is likely to lead to a crime. That’s the law!

    1. Hank Stanco says:

      Wrong. All Catholic priests consider the secrecy of the confessional absolute. Priests have been know to accept imprisonment rather than break the silence of the confessional.

      That being said, it appears that most people commenting here think catholic priests are pedophiles.

      The fact is that 4% of the 54,000 catholic priest in the US have been accused of child molestation. And that is since 1930. Compare that to Protestant ministers. They average 6-8% of all ministers have been accused. Since the 1980’s

      And neither of those groups compare to public school teachers. 10% of all teachers have been accused of child sexual assault. That was in the last three years alone.

      The problem in the Catholic Church is not a priest hearing the confession of a church member. The problem lies with priests confessing to their Monsignor or bishop. These monsters are using their own rules against the church.

      In the 1980’s, Rev John Geoghan was transferred to different churches all over the country. Only after his arrest for pedophilia did those dioceses learn that he had been accused in Boston. The belief is that he confessed to his archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law.

      Once that confession was made, Cardinal Law could not notify the authorities. Transfer was Law’s only option.

      Until the Church changes Canon Law regarding this matter, the Church is in a stranglehold.

  14. Ben says:

    Clergy should be required to report any crimes.
    Period.

  15. Just want to know the truth says:

    no church should have the power the Catholic church has. They make up their own laws. And they can bless tap water and make it HOLLY., For real? what voodoo magic is that?
    They can forgive your sins? Give you a ticket to Heaven? People wake up. Where does it say that in the Bible?

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      Let’s crucify the Pope, and burn down the Vatican !!!

      1. Carl Elfstrom says:

        P.S. Like the song goes, and I do quote ” We’re not gonna take it. No, we’re not gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it, anymore !”And, ” All the young dudes carry the news .” Out with the old, in with the new. The Goddess is alive, and Magick is afoot.”

        1. Rev. Buzz says:

          Carl, I am fond of a saying which coincides with your post: We can only be treated the way we let others treat us. This also is compatible with the platinum rule, which is; treat others as THEY wish to be treated. Too often the golden rule can offend others because they do not wish to be treated as we wish to be treated. That is especially true in regard to religion.

  16. b0blf says:

    ?Wake up, Catholics! Church tradition and leaders have lied to you and betrayed you for centuries!

    NO where is the Bible is Mary to be prayed to nor worshiped. The Bible expressly forbids the veneration and worship of ; the praying to any idol, man-made form, statue, etc. There is NO mention of turning water into Holy water. The is NO suggestion that religious leaders should be celibate. These and countless other rules/practices are religious voodoo meant to captivate the laity.

    Run to Jesus! Read the Gospels and find Jesus for your real salvation. He is the ONLY way to God!

    1. Richard says:

      If he is the ONLY way to God does this mean that all non christian religion followers are consigned to hell?
      Buddists, Muslims, etc. etc.
      That is over 2/3 of the worlds population!

      1. John Owens says:

        That is the teaching of some, but the actual scripture teaches that at a point in the future, all who have lived and died will be given an opportunity. That billions would either perish eternally or burn forever is a dark fantasy from Babylon and a comedy from Dante. It is not the will of a loving Deity.

    2. Hank Stanco says:

      Mary is not worshiped. She is honored. And praying to saints is an accepted practice from the books of Maccabees.

      1. Lionheart says:

        Weird though isn’t it? A woman who was an obvious adulterer giving birth while married to someone else……. that’s if it’s true.

        Darn it, I forgot! God gets a pass on this one, even though he’s supposed to have set the rules of morality and honor.

        My neighbors wife never got away with that though. It ruined their marriage, but she did become popular with a very seedy side of town afterwards. I think they honored her. The problem was that she offered her honor, and they honored her offer and as a result they were “on her” and off her all the time.

        1. Hank Stanco says:

          Your sarcasm is unappreciated. Joseph and Mary were not married they were betrothed to each other.

          Joseph knew well what he was getting into. He could have had her stoned but he chose to marry her.

          1. Lionheart says:

            Ohhhh, he was only betrothed! That’s okay then. Phew! God skipped a bullet there. That was very nice of Joseph wasn’t it, to forgive God for messing around with his betrothed. Not many people would have done that. I would have punched God on the nose, but being as God sinned he owes Joseph a huge favor. I didn’t hear much about him after God had is way with Mary. Personally, I think we should perhaps be worshipping and honouring Joseph, than his betrothed Mary and her fornicater. He seems like a really upstanding kinda guy that few talk about.

            Well, I’m going to take a break and make myself a cup of Joe in honor of him.

      2. flugo says:

        Is Mary prayed to? Tell me where in the Scriptures that is permitted!

        1. Hank Stanco says:

          2 Maccabees 15:11-16

          1. flugo says:

            No, I mean the real Bible, not the adulterated, revised, and selectively edited version of the Catholics.

          2. Lionheart says:

            Look flugo, if people can nod and pray to a brick/stone wall, they can surely nod and pray about a dead female person without getting approval from words found in a mythical book.

        2. Hank Stanco says:

          First of all, my bible has been around for 1700 yeas with no change. The question becomes, why did Protestants change it?

          Second she is honored as the mother of the king of kings.

          The books of Kings and Chronicle has many examples of the kings mothers being honored.

          Finally what’s with the insults and name calling? Can you not make your point without insults?

          I can help you find a psychiatrist to help you deal with your self esteem issues

      3. John Owens says:

        I have seen people praying to Mary and making offerings to Mary and having parades for Mary. She is considered the Queen of Heaven by Catholics, and revered more than Jesus or the Father.

        1. Hank Stanco says:

          Everything you have stated is true. Parades and offerings are giving honor to her. But that is different than offering worship as one would to God.

          The only error in your comment is that she is revered more thanChrist himself.

          She is honored as the mother of God.I suggest you read through kings and chronicles. Through these books the name of the king is written along with the name of his mother. The Hebrew people honored the mother of the king. Mary is honored as the mother of the King of Kings.

          1. flugo says:

            ‘hunk stinko’: Mary was a sinner just like you and I.(Romans 3:23) She even acknowledged her need of a Savior. (Luke 1:47)

            And , in the gospels, Jesus never permitted praying to Mary. She was a special person because God chose her; He didn’t choose her because she was special. She was blessed and favored ‘AMONG women’, not OVER women.

            Being the mother of Jesus is NOT the elevated status you may think it is. Jesus Himself set the record straight that she was not so special: (Mark 3:32-35)

            You’ve likely been brainwashed by church tradition and leaders. I urge you to get into the Scriptures and ask God to enlighten you with His Word by His Holy Spirit.

          2. John Owens says:

            Hank, except for Easter and Christmas, Mary is honored more than Jesus.

  17. Frank Villari says:

    I found some good information concerning this, here: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-confession-in-scripture

  18. John D. Partin says:

    I always wanted to be abused by the priests, but we weren’t Catholic. My mother’s boyfriends wouldn’t abuse me, either, so I had to seek abuse in the street.

Leave a Comment