It was a frigid Sunday evening at the Catholic Newman Center in Salt Lake City when the priest warned parishioners who had gathered after Mass that their right to private confessions was in jeopardy.
A new law would break that sacred bond, the priest said, and directed the parishioners to sign a one-page form letter on their way out. “I/We Oppose HB90,” began the letter, stacked next to pre-addressed envelopes. “HB90 is an improper interference of the government into the practice of religion in Utah.”
In the following days of February 2020, Utah’s Catholic diocese, which oversees dozens of churches, says it collected some 9,000 signed letters from parishioners and sent them to state Rep. Angela Romero, a Democrat who had been working on the bill as part of her campaign against child sexual abuse. HB90 targeted Utah’s “clergy-penitent privilege,” a law similar to those in many states that exempts clergy of all denominations from the requirement to report child abuse if they learn about the crime in a confessional setting.