The LDS Church has set a number of gold standards in its time. The problem is that when time moves on, often the standard does not change.
For example, the Church welfare system. It was above and beyond anything else that existed in the 1930s. Now, it fails to reach the standard set by Interfaith Ministries and other organizations.
Which makes sense. Consider the gold standard for televisions, or automobiles or computers in 1972. Compare a $300,000.00 minicomputer of 1972 with a $100 calculator from Wal-Mart in 2021. I’ve used both. The $45 calculator from Wal-Mart is surprisingly better. The hundred dollar calculator is beyond better.
The same is true of programs for preventing sexual abuse.
Recent scandals with the People of Praise and the Baptist Conventions have brought sexual abuse in churches back to the forefront of discussion.
So I thought I would discuss what makes a gold standard system for avoiding and preventing sexual abuse in a church.
As sad experience has taught, any good system must have three foundational concepts or understandings.
- Abusers who do not avoid potential victims remain abusers. No rehabilitation program yet tried succeeds if abusers are not segregated from potential victims.
- Abusers tend to have social and personal power in comparison to their victims. No system that does not acknowledge the corrosive effect of the status difference succeeds.
- No abuser who fails to make full restitution and full confession to the civil authorities has truly changed. Experience reflects that the moment they fail at either, they are merely attempting to succeed at abusing (and will repeat), not changing.
Every system that does not explicitly acknowledge those issues will not avoid being used to cover up abuse rather than stop it.
What currently works
Now, to be clear, many of the things that are part of a successful 2021 program were not possible in 1972. For example, a Church that did not honor the priest-penitent privilege in 1972 could count on not being acknowledged as a “real” church in much of the world. Other tools were not available or had significant downsides. There are reasons that many of the things now considered essential were basically impossible or imprudent in 1972.
Other things considered important are now acknowledged to be foolishness. For example, the Boy Scouts were sued many times for not excluding gay scouts or gay scout leaders as a cause of sexual abuse. It is now well established that such an argument is fallacious.
With that out of the way, here are the factors that go into a gold standard system.
- Police reports. There were a number of reasons not to pull these, rely on them, have them in church records or use them in 1972. But in 2021, pulling the data from one of the public data storehouses is considered an essential. Failure to do so means a failure in a reliable, low-cost screening method.
- External review. It used to be that having internal review was considered the gold standard, and retaining an outside law firm to handle review was considered to be above and beyond. Now, using an outside law firm is considered second rate and establishing an external, independently funded, review and reporting system is considered state of the art. E.g. the Presbyterian external review program.
- Asserting the right to report. LDS general counsel has floated this as an approach for about twenty years or so. The basic premise is that a Church may assert a religious dogma that all abuse is reported, and if they warn members in advance (perhaps in a card given out in Sacrament Meeting programs or otherwise), there is no basis to assert that the Church is bound by the priest-penitent privilege.
- With continuing changes in international law, this becomes more and more a possible standard rather than one that has immediate and harsh negative consequences.
- There are debates on both sides of the coin, but in line with the foundational concepts, the debate has been settled in favor of mandatory and automatic reporting.
- Victim services. Counseling, support and segregation services (segregation meaning that abusers are required to move and avoid victims and potential victims), paid for by the Church using independent professionals.
- Two deep leadership whenever minors/children are involved, including having parents present for interviews. The issues that can arise by having parents present can be ameliorated by making the outside review body easy to contact, well known, and able to also engage when children are abused by parents.
Those are the five matters that make up the current gold standard.
- Which do you think we meet?
- Which do you think we could meet?
- What do you disagree with on those points?
- What other comments or thoughts do you have?
Post Script. I am aware that involving the government can make things worse, rather than better. But, overall, failing to involve the government makes this worse. It is a matter of anecdotal issues vs. statistical or systematic ones. That said, no system is perfect, and no system operates without negatives to go with the positives.
I can’t answer these questions without first consulting Kirton and McConkie for consultation.
Listen to Gina Colvin’s interview with a prominent Australian attorney regarding how the church handles these cases in Oceania. When this attorney was chatting with a stake president friend of his and objected to a state reporting requirement because it failed to protect victims, the SP reportedly responded that the intent of the law was to protect the church, not the victims. Also listen to her earlier conversations with Tim Kosnoff, who’s sat across from attorneys for the church many times and has strong and well-earned opinions about what the church’s priorities are in situations like these.
It’s a good idea to lay out the behaviors that make up a gold standard, but the church’s initial responsibility may be to shift its general attitude about sexual assault and exactly who the victim is when it happens.
The Church’s claim that their approach was the “gold standard” would have been laughable had the stakes not been so high. Your post is the first thing I’ve read on this topic that illustrates why anyone in their right mind would think (on the inside of the COB that is) that it’s the gold standard: maybe it was in the 1970s or 1960s.
Biggest issue is (as both jaredsbrother and josh h point out) that the Church does a *much* better job protecting itself than victims, to the point that it revictimizes victims almost as a rule. It’s a patriarchal Church that hires a terribly patriarchal law firm. Both of these groups are horrible at caring about victims in the quest for self-preservation, and it’s been demonstrated so clearly so many times that I don’t see how anyone can see anything otherwise.
As to your list of “gold standard” requirements, I guess two-deep leaders and teachers is the only one we meet, and we just started that, and we carve out exceptions for bishops and counselors and then make mandatory worthiness interviews a feature of our religion. A lot of abuse happens in those situations, just because there are so many of them and they are so normalized, and it’s up to potential victims to say they want a second person present.
I think the gold standard would also include this stipulation:
When a person in any leadership role is unsure whether something reported to them is an instance of abuse, they call the appropriate civil authorities—child protective service, adult protective service, or even police. A church leader is set apart to minister to the spiritual needs of their group. These civil authorities are highly trained (set apart in a different way) to investigate and prosecute these cases appropriately.
TL;DR When in doubt whether to report something that might be abuse, report it anyway.
I like EM’s suggestion.
A few years ago, there was a big flap
Involving the Church in West Virginia. A young man who had been called on his mission from his home ward in WVA, had to be sent home from his mission to face legal charges in WVA that he had committed sexual abuse against young children he babysat, pre-mission. The Church got into trouble because Local Church leaders, though aware of the problem, had failed to satisfy WVA legal requirements that clergy have to report such situations.
The case was terrible, and created awful divisions among Church membership in the area, with many members being angry at the families who had gone public with the young man’s abuse.
So I think mandatory police reporting is good, and will help. And Angela is unfortunately correct about the Church caring more about itself than the victims. Josh H’s crack about Kirton and McConkie is also unfortunately spot-on. (Hisses against K and McC.)
But a huge problem is Church members blaming and getting angry at the people who step forward with claims of abuse. We are stuck in an “us against the world “ mindset that turns against people who point out that our culture is not perfect.
Any doubt one might have about whether the Church cares more about itself as an institution and its priesthood leaders than it does about victims of abuse by those leaders can be laid to rest by studying its response to the McKenna Denson allegations against former MTC president and confessed sexual abuser Joseph Bishop. The Church’s public statements – with their victim blaming and shaming, omissions and misrepresentations – and later its sharing her *private* LDS adoption and church discipline file with Bishop’s personal attorney was … I mean I have no words. What is the actual opposite of a gold star?
Doubt also laid to rest by treatment of Sam Young.
There’s just no argument here. Any time there’s a choice between the institution and a victim (oh, or btw any actual human being) the Church will pick itself. Any time.
Very important topic and one that I have to assume the Church has studied and debated at serious length with its attorneys and related councils. I have not done enough research to offer an opinion on what a “gold standard” would look like, but the list provided in the OP seems to be at least a basic foundation.
There’s too much at stake from a legal perspective for the Church to have not done more with this. So with that being true, the fact that the current policies and practices are lacking (most importantly) to prevent situations of abuse, but are also putting the Church at risk of being sued, getting terrible publicity, and causing fractures with members and congregations, why can a better, safer, legal system not be implemented, like immediately?
Off the cuff, (I could be totally wrong or misguided in my thinking) my best thought is: The Church leadership doesn’t understand or appreciate that there is a complete and total separation between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the institution. They view policies as revealed principles for God’s kingdom on earth. They think leaders have access to revelation on ALL issues. They seemingly assume that members (particularly local leaders) who are engaged in serving within the church do not have vices or desires to act outside of moral or legal boundaries. They have required the doctrine of Chasity (to determine spiritual worthiness) to be privately discussed with minors and vulnerable adults, by church leaders who are untrained, imperfect, and themselves subject to the very same unchaste actions or thoughts. And because they conflate the institution with the message of Christ (he is the head of this Church after all), they do not accept responsibility for failed policies or inaction, because to do so makes Jesus the pervert.
Or maybe it all comes down to money and they have crunched the numbers and figure the cost of a few settlement payouts is less than implementing safety measures?
The Church is a corporation. They should act more like it. The Church represents Jesus the Christ. They should act more like it.
As in other areas, the Church makes small improvements and senior leadership pats itself on the back — yet society makes bigger improvements, so the Church falls farther behind. So while the leadership thinks “wow, we’re getting better, why do people keep complaining,” the truth is the gap between what most of us encounter out in the world — in businesses and government and courts — and what we experience in the Church gets larger. The degree of disconnect and denial is almost Trumpish: In the face of an unrelenting series of revelations of abuse within Church units , “We sometimes use two-deep teaming and we have a help line for leaders — why is everyone complaining?” sounds as disconnected from reality as “I got 74 million votes, what do you mean I lost?”
Besides that unrecognized performance gap, there is an unrecognized credibility gap as well. Bishops see themselves (and the senior leadership sees them) as caring and compassionate and trustworthy pastors who any member can and should come to with issues. An increasing percentage of the membership sees them as untrained and conflicted, at least as likely to do harm as to do anything beneficial, ESPECIALLY in a case of child abuse or domestic violence. Honestly, I would never counsel a friend or a client to disclose to an LDS bishop. Choose a school counselor or a nurse or a doctor or a social worker or law enforcement. All of these professionals have training, generally recognize an abuse scenario when it is reported or disclosed to them, and generally take proper steps to protect the victim.
This is a highly inflammatory subject. I admire you for having such a professional tone. During the time I served as a bishop quite recently, I dealt with an unusually large number of cases in my ward. I had lots of communication with church lawyers, so I believe I have an accurate read on how close the church is to the gold standard you are proposing:
1) Not done by the church
4) Victim services – fast offerings can be used by the bishop if the victim can’t pay and neither can the victim’s family. Otherwise, nothing.
I think segregation services are generally applied. The caveat here is that there are not clear guidelines for managing abusers and the church lawyers are loath to give detailed guidelines because the institutional church doesn’t want to be responsible for managing abusers. So the abuser can be sent to the new ward without those in the new ward adequately supervising the abuser.I have seen cases in my stake where abusers were given access to children because the fact that an individual had abused children was not disclosed to the members asking the abusers to work with kids. So segregation services are good for the victim who reported but can also put kids in the next ward at risk.
Another comment about victim services is that bishops are supposed to provide “spiritual” support to victims but bishops are also carrying legal piss from the lawyers. For example the form letter bishops convey to victims is worded in a way to influence them not to sue. A therapist or medical care provider would not try to influence the legal decisions of their patients. And I was asked to give Elder Scott’s 1992 general conference talk to victims, which contains the following: “At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise the seeds of guilt will remain and sprout into bitter fruit.” Because the church website etc. moves away from victim blaming, I believe that the talk is used deliberately to get the victim blaming language to victims in a way that has plausible deniability,. This can create uncertainty in the minds of victims and that doubt can prevent them from suing or seeking a settlement. My point here is that a bishop doesn’t have the same duty of care that a mental health professional does to a client. I have been told that the bishop has legal duties to the church in many situations.
5) Two deep leadership –> bishops still ask for 1-on-1 interviews with minors.
Your gold standard also leaves out two important things that should be added to your list:
A) High quality training. Before 2019, there was no mandatory training, but materials could be ordered or downloaded if local leaders wished to do so. So it was possible to be a bishop and not know anything about church policies related to abuse. Currently, the training is 30 minutes per 3 years. The existing training was reviewed by Natasha Helfer Parker on Mormon Mental Health and the training is not really equal to the range of situations that occur. The training materials are very good at redirecting peoples attention to abuse cases that happen within families and not those that happen in LDS churches and at activites.
B) Accurate non-distorted communication from the church about their policies. For example, in their 2014 Press Release titled “The Evil of Child Abuse”, they state, speaking of rebaptized child molesters: “But can they ever again, in their lifetime, serve in any capacity that would put them in direct contact with children? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove the consequences of sin. Protection of the family is a first principle of the Church.” In practice, one may apply to the First Presidency to have the annotation of the record removed, and once the annotation is removed, molesters may function normally in the church as if one had never molested children. In my previous stake a de-annotated molester re-offended after having been given a calling with access to youth. Also there are currently missionaries serving who molested children. The church has a history of making distorted and deceptive statements about their policies.
I think it was in the 1990s when the BSA rolled out it’s youth protection program. It was fairly robust, and you may even consider it to be a gold standard for youth-oriented non-profit orgs (mandatory annual training for adult leaders, 2-deep leadership, basic background checks, looking out for and reporting suspicious behavior, etc), or bare minimum at least. But when the Church finally parted ways with BSA, they got rid of everything to do with Scouting, including the youth protection program. They haven’t replaced it with anything similar, which is disappointing. It was probably the only thing from Scouting worth keeping.
I had to get a background check to serve as a one-time chaperone on my child’s 2nd grade field trip to the local fire department. Yet as a ward clerk I was regularly handling significant amounts of cash and also handling confidential (personal) information, but never had any kind of background check or formal vetting for the job. It seems that our standards are actually regressing, not just standing still while the world moves forward.
This is a great post and a reminder that I was going to send you my ideas about a gold standard for protecting against child abuse.
As plvtime points out training is an important component of a gold standard program. A somewhat general training needs to be required of every member and a very detailed, preferably in person training required for all newly called Bishops and Stake Presidents. (They should be compensated for their time as the training should take multiple hours over several days.)
The other big item that could improve this plan is a system of monitoring and testing to ensure policies are being followed, with specific consequences for failure to comply. A Bishopric member has a 1 on 1 interview with a youth? First time is a warning; second violation is means they are released and disfellowshipped for three months.
In the United States and other developed countries, a system could be setup to help ensure compliance by requiring all interviews to be scheduled via an online tool where members. Interviewers can then be required to attest to having another adult in the room as well as indicating who that adult was. A stake auditor could be responsible for doing a random sample verifying that this record is accurate. (“Hello Brother Jones? The Bishop noted that you were in the room when he interviewed your daughter earlier this month. Is that correct?”) In fact, an e-verification system could probably be designed to do this sample electronically which could increase the sample number to near 100%
If we can design strong controls for safeguarding tithing, can’t we design strong controls for protecting our children and other vulnerable members?
I’ve heard a lot of rumors that local Church leaders are instructed to call the Church’s legal counsel if they have questions about abuse reporting (how, when, whether to report, what to say in case of a report, etc.). Can anybody in this forum corroborate or provide a counterexample?
I ask because, as I mentioned above, the only people who are qualified to say when, whether, or how to report abuse are the ones who have devoted their career—their life, really, because it’s the kind of field you can’t really leave at the office, no matter how skilled you are at compartmentalizing—to learning how to deal with abuse cases thoroughly, safely, and respectfully. Lawyers know the law, but they don’t know how to investigate these complex, sensitive cases effectively. That’s the whole point of the public safety agencies I mentioned.
In my professional life (mental health services for young people, primarily crisis support for kids actively seeking to end their lives) I’ve worked on more child abuse and neglect cases than I ever thought existed when I was younger. I know more about abuse and how it tends to happen than I would ever wish to know. And I recognize that I’m still not the one equipped to investigate or prosecute it.
The suggestions in the OP are really solid ones that I would gladly endorse if anyone at the top asked me. I think there’s more to it, and these are a great place to start.
It sure looks like top leadership is more interested in defending the way the institution has always done things than in the welfare of their parishioners, whom they claim to serve at God’s command. Until there’s a massive paradigm shift there, I doubt we’ll see abuse allegations handled better.
EM, I wish that church leadership would make it a priority to serve the members. In reality, the service relationship is reversed. Church leadership serves the organization first and foremost, and God help the member perceived to get in the way of that relationship.
@mtodd great suggestion re audit. AND, completely end the practice of compulsory worthiness interviews. Period. Voluntary pastoral care only.
Many great comments, but Counselor really devastated the target. Church leaders often seem to have a genuine incomprehension about the issue of abuse, as well as other issues confronting the Church. Counselor uses the word “conflate.” Very apt. There seems to be an automatic default mindset that says, the Lord has called me/us to leadership positions, so whatever we wind up doing or deciding to not do, must be inspired of the Lord. Change is hard for any large institution, but when that institution also believes that its leaders are Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, change is made even harder. The Lord will not allow me to make mistakes—so goes the thinking:
I long for the days of SWK and GBH. Conservative men whose views I sometimes disagreed with, but also men with a lively sense of their own fallibility, and mindsets therefore more open to changing direction.
I have read anecdotes that GBH would from time to time restrain RMN’s desire to do certain things (I am sorry, I can remember neither sources nor details). Well, RMN is now Church President, and I believe that a general awareness is growing that he does he does not react well to unwelcome data, that goes against his preferences. Which is odd, given that he is a medical scientist. I am personally aware of some of these instances as they involve individuals whom I know that RMN has interacted with, but will not get specific here, because they are sensitive issues involving committed Church members. So, please believe on my say so, if you are willing. (You are certainly justified, if you should you choose to be skeptical.)
The thing that has bothered me most in this comment thread is PLVTime’s observation that the “molestation red flags” can be removed from a member’s record, upon application to the FP.
MTodd writes “. . .they should be compensated for their time as the training should take multiple hours over several days.”
This gave me a good laugh this morning!
I think Taiwon M is on the mark with RMN. He seems to operate under the premise that every stray thought that enters his head must be direct communication from the Almighty, while SWK and GBH were more willing to discuss and test their ideas with others. Again, GBH was more endearing and relatable because of his humility. RMN is more along the cocksure ETB and BRM mold.
In terms of the church coming in line with current best practices, it will require either a massive PR blowup on the issue or government intervention. But then again, maybe not. The church seems willing to sacrifice BYU’s academic reputation on the alter of patriarchy.
I currently work as an attorney who prosecutes child abuse for DCFS in Utah. I recently had a case where a perpatrator sexually abused their step-children, and I know for a fact that the bishop is aware of the circumstances and the indiviudal still serves in a stake level calling. If he’s been disciplined by the church it was something like a restriction on the sacrement, he wasn’t even released from his calling or excommunicated. The Church is a joke when handling these issues because the issues are handled on a local level rather then through a systematic organization wide process.
That is shocking.
But not really. Seems like the good ole’ boys club will overlook one of the most heinous crimes.
This shouldn’t be left up to local leaders.
There should be established red lines where loss of church callings, even excommunication is warranted. And, if someone is a registered sex offender that should not be erased from the church recorders. Ever.
Stephen, I don’t know that I have much more to add to the comments. But I am pleased that there are people still in the church willing to raise this issue. Thank you!
I’d like to add an action point to (4) victim services. Get rid of purity culture.
TRIGGER WARNING: non-graphic mentions of rape, sexual abuse, and the aftermath.
I’ve heard people (men and women) say that victims of sexual abuse are not accountable for the abuse, but they are accountable for what they do afterwards. The truth is that sexual trauma is so shattering that the victim’s judgment may be severely affected. Some of what looks like sin is actually compulsive behavior tied to trauma. It isn’t unusual for an abuse survivor to be promiscuous, or addictively use pornography, or do other things that Church leaders can condemn, but they’re acting out of self-hatred or despair, not a desire to sin.
When the 8th YW value was added (Virtue), I was disappointed to see the projects. Three of them are basically “commit to live a virtuous life” (meaning no sex before marriage), and the fourth was “repent if you make a mistake.” There was no hint that a YW (or Primary child) could be sexually assaulted. It’s like the ideas of virtue and chastity are wholly separate from rape, abuse and other sexual violence. The leaders say a victim isn’t guilty – that she’s pure and innocent. But that hardly solves the problem. There is damage done; there is an impact on the victim’s future sex life; there’s a strong possibility she’ll do some things while reacting against the trauma that leaders disapprove of. The actual impact on the victim is brushed aside with a tearful testimony about the healing power of the Atonement.
In focusing solely on prevention, the Church fails the victims. No matter how much the Church improves, there will still be victims attending Church.
All the following stories involve active LDS people.
Story: My friend was serving in a YW presidency when they were teaching the law of chastity. She mentioned with disapproval that one of the Beehives was sexually active – quite promiscuous actually. When a 12-year-old is sexually active, let’s just conclude that her first sexual experiences were NOT consensual and she’s acting out of trauma rather than a desire to sin.
Story: A man in an LDS internet forum posted emotionally about his severe disappointment in his marriage and wife because she refused to have sex with him. He’d obeyed the law of chastity his whole life, and now his marriage was sexless. I PMed him and asked if his wife was a sexual trauma survivor. He said she’d been molested when very young. Publicly, he continued posting about how she wasn’t meeting his needs in the marriage. Perhaps if he hadn’t been taught that sex was a glorious crown of marriage, but had already had sexual experiences before getting married, he would have been more patient with his wife. Perhaps if his wife had had sex before marriage, she would have known how much it re-traumatized her and she could have sought counseling before marriage, or made a different decision about who to marry.
Story: My high school friend was molested by her grandfather and then repressed the memories. She felt horrible guilt every time the law of chastity was taught in YW, to the point that she refused to do anything with her boyfriend other than hold hands. No kissing, barely a hug. After her sisters spoke up and her grandfather confessed, she spent years in therapy realizing that the reason she felt guilty about chastity had nothing to do with being wicked.
Story: My close friend was raped by her LDS boyfriend when she was 17. For very good reasons, she didn’t tell her active LDS parents. Her boyfriend apologized, then pointed out that since LDS men want to marry virgins, and she was no longer a virgin, she would have to marry him. He threatened to break up with her if she didn’t have sex with him again. Knowing that he was right and she had no other options for an LDS husband, she submitted to the blackmail-sex for over a year before gaining the strength to break up with him. Maybe without purity culture, she wouldn’t have felt that her virginity would make or break her chances to marry an LDS man.
Story: I was molested at age 7 by my father. It only happened one time (not everyone is a pedophile; sometimes it’s a crime of opportunity). To deal with the fear of being raised by my perp, I locked down all emotions and fantasized about sex incessantly. Somehow knowing this was wrong, I avoided everything possible about sex. I knew nothing about sex – never saw porn, never watched a movie rated above PG, never read a dirty book. I hated myself for my filthy thoughts because the Brethren (esp BKP) taught that if you think it, you’ll do it. Years and years later a therapist explained that many victims of childhood sexual abuse struggle like I did. I wasn’t sinful after all. Purity culture, and extending it even to sexual thoughts, laid such a heavy burden of guilt on me for decades.
Story: My acquaintance’s granddaughter was molested from ages 6-10 by a cousin who was 5 years older than she was. The granddaughter, now a teenager, was into drugs, cutting, running away, and being promiscuous. The acquaintance theorized that her granddaughter’s problem was that she hadn’t yet “forgiven herself” for her part in the abuse. After all, she’d always been precocious so maybe she’d initiated some of it.
Story: My friend’s sister-in-law “made poor choices” in her teen years and got involved with drugs and alcohol and was also sleeping around. She told her parents she’d been molested by an LDS neighbor when she was young. Her parents didn’t believe her, and then lectured her about being forgiving and using the Atonement. She struggled along for the next two years as a drug addict before committing suicide. At her funeral, people talked about how sad it was that a girl from such a strong LDS family had made such poor use of her agency.
The Church ought to absolutely get rid of the idea that “the Lord delighteth in the chastity of women.” Honestly. It’s just a horrible thing to teach in a world where 1 out of 3 women will experience some sort of sexual assault in her lifetime.
Sorry for the long rant.
I was talking about this recently with my husband, and I think a HUGE blind spot is that Primary presidents and YW presidents are Not. Allowed. to call the abuse hotline. If the church was serious about preventing abuse, they wouldn’t make the person suspecting abuse immediately unworthy of being listened to, based on their genitals. Heck, if they REALLY wanted to get serious about abuse, they would publicize the phone number and allow *anyone* to use it. Most of us live in a state where ALL adults are mandated reporters and the last time I took my training (I’m a teacher) they didn’t say “now give your suspicions to a man who is not directly involved with this child, and hope he thinks it’s important enough to act on it.”
Joni’s comment about YW and Primary Presidents not being allowed to call the abuse hotline sheds light on a major inadequacy with the Church’s efforts to deal with abuse. The Church leadership, and the bureaucracy they have set up, are obsessed with maintaining CONTROL. It’s not that the Church does not want to deal with cases of abuse. It is that the Church is unwilling to cede control, as cases of abuse are effectively or ineffectively dealt with. The Church has set up things so that it is almost impossible to get “not all is well in Zion” feedback to high-level Church leaders, on ANY issue.
And it has been my experience that the more an institution tries to keep control of a bad situation, with publicity about problems being anathema, the more the institution (government, church, corporation, military, whatever) loses control. The Church is essentially in reactive mode. I know that the Church can be a target of ambulance-chasing lawsuits, but MANY of the lawsuits are started by people fed up with a bureaucracy that does not effectively respond. The Church’s policy on child abuse will not improve until something happens that it is so bad, that the negative costs of keeping the status quo outweigh the benefits, for the Church.
By all means, strive for a Christian culture in which the wayward repent and are reclaimed by Christ. But not at the expense of the victim. I have seen too many cases in which the Bishop tries to reclaim the sinner, at the expense of providing safety for the abused:
Personally, even if I were allowed to call the church abuse hotline, I wouldn’t do it because it does nothing to help the victim and does not fulfill reporting requirements. I would call civil authorities. I don’t feel it is acceptable to just leave this to the Bishop. I also would not rely on the Bishop to warn potential victims if the alleged abuser is working with children, I would directly tell the parents.
A few years ago I looked at the “Megan’s List” ie sex offenders living in our area. I was surprised to see someone ( a man) in our ward on the list.
He never held a calling but attended church with his wife and 2 children nearly every week.
A couple of years ago they moved to another state.
Hi Joni, Taiwan Missionary, and E,
I appreciated your comments.
One of the changes that took place roughly in the 2019 time frame (when some mandatory training was introduced) is that there was a change in the policy for people with callings who know or suspect abuse within the church. The previous instruction was to tell the bishop who was supposed to call the helpline.
The new policy is that non-bishops should report to DCFS or law enforcement. So what the church wants relief society presidents to do is the same as what critics of the old policy want relief society presidents to do.
The reason for the change is that at the fundamental level, calling the helpline is optional (only a service offered to bishops to instruct them on their reporting requirements as clergy). This optionality reduces liability to the church as calling the helpline is not mandatory, so the responsibility is on the bishop and not the church when things go wrong. So it doesn’t make sense tell members to notify the bishop as he may choose not to use the helpline. There were situations where members reported to bishops expecting the helpline to provide guidance to them. When the bishop did not call the helpline, the members following the old policy became subject to criminal and/or civil liability because they were not following the law. Their mistake was thinking that because they had made a commitment to follow church policies the church had a commitment to help them get to legal compliance as they were functioning in their church callings. But the church had no commitment or consideration of the situations people were in because of their church callings because the institutional church doesn’t fundamentally have a relationship to members.
Overall this change in advice to members in different callings is very good, because everyone except the bishop is asked to report. As long as people talk to their relief society president instead of the bishop, the policy #3 proposed by Stephen, is in force, as all members except the bishop are instructed by the church to report.
So many great comments.
RE “priest-penitent” confidentiality – can one be truly penitent if they are trying to avoid legal accountability by “limiting their confession” to the bishop to claim that shield? Doesn’t seem to fit any definition of repentance/penitence that I remember. The BP/SP should insist on a confession to law enforcement as part of the process.
I often avoid these discussions because I hate ripping up scar tissue by trying to explain how I feel as a survivor.
But Taiwan Missionary hit on the biggest problem. The church doesn’t see itself as “a hospital for injured victims”. It sees itself as a “hospital for sinners”. That right there is why I left the church, because it proved to me over and over that my child molesting father was more loved by “Mormon God” than I was. My own bishops cared more about my father repenting and getting back in good standing with the church than they cared about me and my healing from the abuse. My father was coddled, showered with love, help, and efforts to build up his “damaged self worth” while my mother and I were both shoved away as worse than he was because we couldn’t “forgive” which to them meant, have no lasting damage, hurt, or ill feelings. It was the “lasting damage” that we just couldn’t come up with.
Part of it was just ignorance on their part, and I don’t blame them so much as I blame the church that taught me to trust them. They had no training and no personal experience that could help them know what the victims of abuse needed. But they did have lots of training as to how to help repentant, or at least pretending to repent, sinners. They are taught the repentance process, but funny, our church doesn’t have 4 r’s of forgiveness. We have no clue as to how to forgive the unforgivable. Lessons are taught about forgiving piddly little things, like a total accident or a cross word. But nothing at all on forgiving the big stuff.
Bishops need training, and in order to get the amount of training they need, they need to be professional clergy. Or, the church needs to stop teaching member to go to bishops with confessions and spiritual problems. My bishops were clueless and about how to help and didn’t have enough training or common sense to tell me that I needed professional help. So, they just shoved me away like I had leprosy.
And the other side of that is that professional counselors are ethically restrained from helping with the spiritual problems that abuse leaves. Child abuse by the parent damages a person’s concept of God and destroys one’s trust in God. And how does a victim fix that? Professional counselors are trained to refer such issues back to the person’s clergy. Yup, I did it as a counselor when I worked for Catholic Family Services or any time I had a client who wasn’t Mormon and they brought up specific questions dealing with their religion. And several times, when I was the client, my counselors referred me to my bishop for the spiritual issues. How does an abuse victim repair her relationship with God if her clergy is incompetent and untrained? And just how do I explain to my professional counselor that my bishop is a bloomin’ idiot with zero training, unlike his competent, well trained priest? Talk about being referred in circles- – that is the best this church can do. (Personally, being a social worker professionally myself, I was trained not to get into specifically religious counseling. That is professional clergy’s role and is denomination specific, and has to do with a person’s values. And only if they have no clergy do you even entertain such questions, and then you make them (client ) answer their own questions.
Many many upvotes for Anna’s comment. Yes, the Church is more concerned with the perpetrator than with the victim.
Anna got this exactly right: if bishops are going to have adequate training, they need to be paid clergy. You can’t stick a volunteer with that kind of time commitment. It’s not fair to the bishop, and as Anna explains, the damage to the victim is overwhelming. The Church NEEDS a paid clergy. The old idea that “whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” just doesn’t work anymore. Volunteers have their place, but people in real positions of authority need in-depth education.
Also, the hotline that bishops can call isn’t about helping the victim, or even the perpetrator. It’s about helping the church avoid legal liability. That’s why the calls go to a law firm. That hotline isn’t to report abuse. It’s so a bishop can ask if he needs to report something he knows to the authorities, to make sure the Church doesn’t get sued. Letting YW Pres or RS Pres call it wouldn’t help prevent abuse or protect victims. That hotline is to protect the church as an institution.
“But when the Church finally parted ways with BSA, they got rid of everything to do with Scouting, including the youth protection program. They haven’t replaced it with anything similar, which is disappointing. It was probably the only thing from Scouting worth keeping.”
Jack respectfully you’re either misleading or you just haven’t been in a a calling that requires the training. Having spent years in scouting and doing YPT, and various callings after the split, everything from Sunday School secretary requires the same type of new training.
Would love your feedback of what’s missing compared to the BSA version: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/callings/church-safety-and-health/protecting-children-and-youth?lang=eng
Jpv – I’m a primary teacher and I haven’t had any training. I’m involved in 2 other youth organizations and both require an annual online class/test. Most of the info is super obvious, but I like going over the mandatory reporting rules.
ReTx, as a primary teacher you should have been asked to complete the online training. It’s recorded on your records whether the not you have completed it, and ward leaders can generate a list showing all those in callings which require them to complete it, and whether or not they have done so, and when they next need to repeat it. I believe the requirement is to repeat every three years, unless the training has been updated in the meantime. But it does appear to be the responsibility of ward leaders to make sure those required to do the training both know about it, and complete it.
There is a lot of pushback among the Evangelicals that purity culture is harmful and bad (at least that’s what I’m seeing on social media). If we’re lucky, some of that will spill over into Mormonism.
Turns out I was wrong. My hubby says we had to do an online course five or so years ago when we were first called. Clearly it was effective as I can’t even remember doing it! Probably why all my other organizations make us repeat annually.
The onus on leadership to ensure your workers are trained is something that can be missed unless the ward clerk is on it. As a parent of young children I have a little reminder in my calendar to prompt the bishopric that everyone has completed their training 😀 Not that its my job to micromanage the ward, but there’s no reason I can’t check the safeguards put in place for my children are actually in place.
@Krishewz “The onus on leadership to ensure your workers are trained is something that can be missed unless the ward clerk is on it.”
I’m so glad you keep your leadership up on this. The church can be really good at keeping on top of certain things as we all know. I don’t understand the disconnect here.
Thank you for working to keep children safe where you are.