It’s been a while since I’ve posted (a lot of good, but very busy, life stuff going on). I actually had planned to post something short and light-hearted today.
Then I read this.
I have read and listened to a fair number of accounts of the way the Church has (mis)handled reports of sexual abuse, and complaints about their “help line”–which, for the avoidance of doubt, is designed to help protect the Church and abusers, not to help abuse victims.
This article is the most horrific one I’ve ever read. And it gives more detail on the inner-workings of the help line that I have ever seen. There’s a shorter summary version here, too.
You should read it for yourself, I’m sure there will be lots of discussion about it in the Bloggernacle, not to mention I think we have a responsible to acknowledge and witness this kind of thing. Here, I’m going to provide an overview here and outline some of the issues raised.
The Abuse & Bishop Report
The article details years of horrific abuse a father committed against his daughters while living in Arizona. (I’m not going to describe it here. Read the article. It’s horrific.) The father confessed to the abuse of his first daughter to his bishop. When the bishop called the Church “helpline”, he was told in no uncertain terms not to contact the police or child welfare services: “When [the bishop] called the help line, church officials told him the state’s clergy-penitent privilege required him to keep [the] abuse confidential” and that “he could be sued” if he went to authorities.
The father later told a second bishop about the abuse, who also called the helpline. The second bishop was again told not to report the abuse; the Church did, however, tell that bishop to convene disciplinary proceedings and the father was excommunicated. Still, nothing was reported.
The father was eventually arrested–after abusing his daughters (including one starting at six-weeks old) for seven years–when videos of the abuse surfaced on the internet. The Church did not have anything to do with his arrest or the discovery of his crimes. The father died by suicide after his arrest.
As mentioned, the article details the inner workings of the Church’s abuse hotline in more detail than I’ve ever seen–based on thousands of pages of records reporters uncovered from a separate lawsuit against the LDS Church.
The article reports:
“The sealed records say calls to the help line are answered by social workers or professional counselors who determine whether the information they receive is serious enough to be referred to an attorney with Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City firm that represents the church.
But it also says, in capital letters, that those taking the calls “should never advise a priesthood leader to report abuse. Counsel of this nature should come only from legal counsel.”
The article also describes:
“Two church practices, identified in the sealed records, work together to ensure that the contents of all helplines calls remain confidential. First, all records of calls to the help line are routinely destroyed. ‘Those notes are destroyed by the end of every day,’ said Roger Van Komen, the church’s director of Family Services, in an affidavit included in the sealed records.
Second, church officials say that all calls referred to Kirton McConkie lawyers are covered by attorney-client privilege and remain out of the reach of prosecutors and victims’ attorneys. “The church has always regarded those communications between its lawyers and local leaders as attorney-client privileged,” said Paul Rytting, the director of Risk Management, in a sealed affidavit.”
Finally, the internal documentation and testimony also clarifies the real purpose of the “helpline”, which is to protect the Church–not abuse victims (or really even people who call in, except to the extent they represent the institutional Church):
“Mormon leaders established the help line in 1995 and it operated not within its Department of Family Services, but instead in its Office of Risk Management, whose role is to protect the church and members from injury and liability in an array of circumstances, including fires, explosions, hazardous chemical spills and severe weather. The department ultimately reports to the First Presidency, the three officials at the very top of the church hierarchy, according to records in the sealed documents.”
As I see it, there are at least three legal issues here.
- First, was the Bishop required to report the abuse to relevant authorities?
- Second, if he wasn’t required, was the bishop legally permitted to report the abuse to relevant authorities?
- Third, could the Church itself be held liable for the abuse?
Privilege & Compulsory Reporting Primer
Let’s tackle the privilege / mandatory reporting questions first. By way of background, there are several different kinds of legal “privileges” such as the attorney-client privilege, clergy-penitent, doctor-patient, spousal, etc.
Some kinds of privilege allow the privilege holder to resist compulsory disclosure of documents or information. The attorney-client privilege allows attorneys to decline to disclose certain communications to regulators, in trial, etc. Its purpose is to allow clients to speak freely with lawyers without worrying that what they say could be used against them in court or other proceedings. Attorneys also have a duty of confidentiality to their clients–so they are not supposed to reveal privileged communications–but this isn’t typically dealt with by statute. It’s instead a professional obligation that would be regulated and enforced by accreditation bodies like a bar association. So a lawyer who reveals privileged communications could be disbarred or perhaps civilly liable for malpractice, but not criminally prosecuted.
In addition, only certain kinds of attorney-client communications qualify for the privilege (facts aren’t privilege, just the communication seeking and responding to requests for legal advice), and the privilege can be lost or waived if the communications are disclosed to anyone–so once the information is disclosed to any third party that does not also have that privilege, it goes away. You can’t pick and choose who you disclose to.
Another important limitation on the attorney-client privilege is the crime / fraud exception. Under that exception, if a client is in the process of committing or intends to commit a crime or fraudulent act and communicated with the lawyer with intent to further the crime or to cover it up, that communication is not privileged. I’m oversimplifying here (and this is not legal advice!), but one way of thinking about it is that if a client confesses to a past crime, the lawyer does not need to disclose that information–it’s privileged. But if a client talks to a lawyer about an ongoing or future crime with intent to cover it up or continue, the privilege is lost.
Spousal privilege is another kind of privilege that has interesting applications in different states. For example, in many states, one spouse can prevent the other from testifying in a civil suit. But in many of those states, for criminal proceedings, a spouse cannot be compelled by the government to testify but could choose to testify and the other spouse could not object. In addition, nothing of course prevents a spouse from reporting another to law enforcement or other authorities for something like child abuse. The point of the spousal privilege is to preserve marital harmony by not compelling a spouse to testify against another–but the limitations reflect the fact that if the spouse is choosing to testify, the state’s interest in protecting the marriage is probably not very strong. Likewise, parents should be able to protect their children (or themselves) by reporting abuse.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are also several types of compulsory reporting laws (the opposite of privilege), such as for therapists, physicians, and school teachers. Generally, for example, a therapist would have a duty of confidentiality to a client. But if the therapist comes to believe that child abuse or neglect is occurring, the therapist has a mandatory reporting obligation to report to authorities–and is immune from civil liability for such a report (even if it ends up being incorrect).
Penitent-Clergy Privilege & Reporting
Many states have a type of clergy privilege designed to facilitate the free communication between penitents and their clergy. Arizona, the state where this particular case took place, has the following:
“In a civil action a clergyman or priest shall not, without the consent of the person making a confession, be examined as to any confession made to him in his character as clergyman or priest in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which he belongs.”
A couple of important points here. Again, I haven’t done extensive legal research on this and I’m not giving legal advice, but reading the text on its face tells us that (1) this applies in “a civil action,” and (2) protects a clergy person from being “examined” (i.e., in a deposition or witness examination).
What doesn’t it say? Well, it doesn’t say that a clergy can’t be compelled to testify in a criminal case. It also doesn’t say that a clergy cannot choose to testify in a civil case. It certainly does not say that clergy cannot report suspected abuse to child welfare services. And it also permits disclosure with “consent.”
Arizona, like many states, also has a mandatory reporting law. This law requires that a host of people–doctors, social workers, school personnel, caregivers, and–yep–clergy–report to child welfare if they have a reasonable belief that a minor is or has been the victim of abuse. However, it has an exception for clergy’s mandatory reporting requirements that “[a] member of the clergy … who has received a confidential communication or a confession in that person’s role as a member of the clergy … may withhold reporting of the communication or confession if the member of the clergy … determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion. This exemption applies only to the communication or confession and not to personal observations the member of the clergy, Christian science practitioner or priest may otherwise make of the minor.”
In 2021, there was legislation pending to remove this exemption, but it did not pass. In any event, again, it does not mean that a clergy person is prohibited from disclosing such communications. Only that they may decline to if they determine it is “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.”
Again, this brings up back to the actual legal issues in the case.
The attorneys representing the Church stated that “These bishops did nothing wrong. They didn’t violate the law, and therefore they can’t be held liable.” That’s wrong in a lot of ways.
First, it’s not clear to me that they didn’t violate the mandatory reporting laws as I do not know what is “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of” the LDS Church to decline to intervene when a five-year-old girl is being raped by her father and neither her father or mother is doing anything about it. While I understand the policy behind keeping confessions confidential, I don’t really understand how protecting the confidentiality of the father’s confession outweighed a five-year old’s interests in not getting raped (for seven years). That said, given the deference that courts tend to give to religious institutions to practice in the way they see fit, I am guessing that this is generally interpreted to protect a confession / repentance process if the religious institution teaches that those are confidential. At the same time, I don’t remember ever being told that confessing to a crime to a bishop couldn’t lead to a report to authorities, and I also seem to recall that the Church claims that its policy is to protect abuse victims. If the Church’s actual policy is to protect abuse victims, then it doesn’t seem “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion” to protect the abuser instead.
Second, even assuming that the bishop didn’t have a legal obligation to report under mandatory reporting laws, that does not mean that he “did nothing wrong.” He could have chosen to report the abuse, or he could have encouraged the husband to report the abuse, or asked the husband for consent to report the abuse, or more strongly encouraged the wife to report the abuse, or a whole number of other options to try to get help for a vulnerable girl who was suffering unspeakable horrors. The advice that he was given by the Church helpline that he was not allowed to report the abuse was dead wrong. It’s possible that he could have been sued for defamation if the report was knowingly false–although Arizona attorneys claim that good faith reports are immune from civil or criminal liability, so that seems such a stretch. In any event, it seems it would be much better to weigh in favor of risking a defamation suit instead of risking continued abuse of a child (and potential legal liability and bad press stemming from that, as well).
The ultimate question of whether the Church should be held liable for not reporting is harder, and I honestly don’t know the answer to that because I’m not familiar enough with the relevant standards for causation and defenses. But I think a strong case can be made that the helpline gave the bishop incorrect legal advice and was essentially either lying to him, or committing malpractice by misinterpreting Arizona law, and that this advice directly led to his decision not to report and therefore the continued abuse of the girl and, later, her infant sister. This actually wasn’t even about “poor training” of clergy (like not telling him what to do and leaving him to his own devices). It’s about intentionally training clergy not to report abuse.
I actually do not care what the Church’s legal rights or obligations are. I truly do not.
Because last I checked, the standard for right and wrong is not “not breaking the law.” If that were the case, there are about a million things that I could do that are “not breaking the law” that the Church–and lots of other people–would think are “wrong.” You know, like drinking, or smoking, or getting an abortion in a blue state, or getting gay-married, or never ever giving any money to charity, or never ever treating anyone with kindness. I was under this strange impression that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are trying to follow Him–not just the law.
And last I checked, Jesus never said a damn word about protecting institutions or abusers or clergy from liability. What he did say is that “whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”
This is not that hard, Salt Lake.
I get that you want to protect the institution.
I get that there are some benefits to the clergy-penitent privilege and you want people to feel that they can freely confess.
Still. This isn’t hard.
Stop protecting abusers.
- What’s your take on the legal issues here? Do you agree or disagree that the bishop was a mandatory reporter? Do you agree or disagree that he could have chosen to report? Do you agree or disagree with the helpline’s advice that he’s not allowed to report?
- What benefits of the penitent-clergy privilege do you see? What exceptions, if any, should there be? Are you aware of any evidence that repentance “cures” sexual predators? If it doesn’t, then what should that mean for how the Church handles such confessions?
Given that the first bishop was a doctor, didn’t he have an obligation to report as a mandatory reporter? Or did his role as bishop somehow trump that? I am a mandatory reporter and it is made clear to us that that applies all the time, not just in my role as an educator. Maybe the law is different in AZ? just seems like there is an even stronger case for reporting given this particular bishop’s profession. The church’s advice was really pretty indefensible from a moral standpoint, which should overrule the legal one, in my opinion.🤢
@MJ, I wondered about that too. That’s a weird situation (that would never happen with a professional clergy) where there are arguably two bases for reporting. I am guessing that since he came by the information in his capacity as clergy not a doctor it may not apply, but then again I know social workers who have to report even if they learn information totally outside the scope of their work.
I’m not a lawyer. I believe that Kirton McConkie knows the relevant state law very well and advised the inquiring bishops to act in a way that could potentially keep the church from suffering public humiliation and monetary damages. As you said, Elisa, I cannot care any less that the law may have permitted the church to not act. This is an institution that sells itself as the kingdom of God on earth led personally by Christ himself, and I’ve never seen a more stark example of hypocrisy, craven institutional selfishness, and moral vacuity. Christ talks about money with some regularity in the gospels, which I always thought was the most glaring example of hypocrisy for the Mormon church. I now stand corrected. The information from this article is going to leave a black mark that makes Prop 8 look like a stubbed toe.
If I went to the SLC temple, only a few blocks from my home, and found it in flames, I would gladly pour gasoline on the fire. If it ever had it, the church has completely lost it’s way.
Still not a lawyer, but I would add that, as someone who studied journalism, this is an excellent example of why the Fourth Estate is so essential in a time when hardly anyone has a kind word for the media. I ask you, if journalists and the media didn’t do the leg work on stories like this, would we ever know anything about the shady dealings of the institutions on which we build our lives?
@jaredsbrother, I paid to subscribe to the Salt Lake Trib precisely because it’s the only thing attempting to keep the LDS Church and Utah Legislature accountable. Totally agree.
Thanks for giving the Arizona definitions. It sure sounds like the exemption shouldn’t apply and the bishop was a mandatory reporter.
Benefits of penitent-clergy privilege: basically assistance with correcting non-violent crimes committed in the past. Help with resources for illegal immigration. Help the old lady wracked with guilt for stealing two candy bars in 1973. Help with substance abuse. Etc… No allowance for crimes against children.
The fact that these cases are referred to the Church’s “Risk Management” department says it all
This story is absolutely infuriating. I’ve been following the AZ case for a couple of years now since I first saw folks sharing local reporting on Twitter and I’m glad to finally see it get the national attention it deserves. The church’s actions in this case are inexcusable. This story coming a few days on the heels of reporting about the church’s efforts to attempt to buy broad legal protections over sex abuse litigation via their $250M contribution to the BSA…is a lot to take in. I really hope that we are finally having a moment of public reckoning but I’m also jaded enough that I’m not going to hold my breath.
I was recently reading up again about the Strengthening Church Members Committee and its activities in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and I am struck by the juxtaposition of how aggressively the LDS church has investigated and pursued discipline against fundamentalist or dissident members while seemingly going out of their way to protect known abusers in an effort to protect the group-image. Contrast, for example, how the church invested time and resources to investigating rumors of satanic ritual abuse among the membership in the 80s and 90s (which was revealed via the Pace Memorandum; https://tokensandsigns.org/the-satanic-panic-and-the-pace-memorandum/), with how they invest so much in keeping reports of known and ongoing abuse from being reported to the police. Granted, whatever they thought they had uncovered with the investigation into SRA they also weren’t reporting to authorities and we never would have known about it if it hadn’t been leaked. It makes one wonder to what extent the church has records of the abuse happening among their ranks that they are actively suppressing to protect the image of the church.
@Scoobah, I have a friend who was abused by a ward member. The ward member confessed to a person who was both a therapist and an ecclesiastical leader. It was not reported. He was not disciplined. Later, the therapist offered therapy to my friend telling him “I just can tell that something is going on with you” so acted like he was being generous and helping a kid out and so “perceptive.” Turns out he KNEW the kid had been abused and that the perpetrator went unpunished. I guess offering therapy was his way of trying to make up for it? Umm, no.
I saw that horrific report last night,
One more straw to break my connection with the Church.
It is obvious the Church preaches one thing but then does the opposite. There is never/rarely an acknowledgement of wrong/bad decisions by leadership. But they are not above the law and commandments.
For example what are the steps taught regarding the repentance process? They include recognizing the wrong and making amends ie paying the price.
Church leaders should inform those they counsel that they are obligated to report these crimes to law enforcement.
The Church chose to cover this horrific crime up—leaving the criminal able to continue his abuse. The crime should’ve immediately reported to CPS and law enforcement. The perp should’ve been locked up (in addition to excommunication) asap.
If our leaders truly cared, they should put the safety of children first.
Now we know.
This is a corporation pretending to be a religious institution.
@Elisa, Yikes yikes yikes! I absolutely hate it.
We had a situation in my own stake where they called a currently registered sex offender (2 counts of first degree sexual assault of a minor) into the YSA bishopric. When I raised hell about it they doubled down on what a good and penitent man he was. They went out of their way to get First Presidency approval for the calling but they couldn’t be bothered to tell the YSA anything about his history before asking them to sustain him. They eventually backed down and released him after ( I assume) enough people in the stake complained. In my email exchange with the SP about the situation, he mentioned having called someone at the church about the legal issues of the situation before responding to me, which I presume was the hotline or Kirton-McConkie.
I’ve heard so many similar stories now from other people. It’s well past time for a public reckoning.
“Because last I checked, the standard for right and wrong is not “not breaking the law.” If that were the case, there are about a million things that I could do that are “not breaking the law” that the Church–and lots of other people–would think are “wrong.” You know, like drinking, or smoking, or getting an abortion in a blue state, or getting gay-married, or never ever giving any money to charity, or never ever treating anyone with kindness”
This illustrates one part of what is so maddening about this story (stories, actually. There is the WV case also referenced in the article). You know what else is perfectly legal and perfectly insulates someone from legal liability? Doing nothing. In any state, if you happen across a drowning child and you could easily save the kid but do nothing you have not broken any law and have zero legal liability for the drowning death of the child. I’m not talking first responders et al, only average citizens. Say, for example, a GA (former Kirton attorney to make it better) was out for a walk on a beach and saw a kid drowning and did nothing or, more probably, scolded the kid for putting himself in the situation but still did nothing to help. That GA would have no legal liability for the death of the child. The law does not compel the GA, or any other average citizen, to do a thing to help the drowning child. Thus, it is all legal and there is zero legal liability. The GA is 100% safe from legal liability.
It seems that’s similar to what the Church did here, for the sake of the Church. I would go so far as to assume the legal advice given tracked perfectly with AZ law and reporting standards. As a pure legal matter, I suspect the Bishops involved here followed the law, if splitting a few hairs. For a Church, however, I think we should expect more and more Christlike responses to people in desperate need when they pop up on the Church’s radar. That same morally obtuse legal talent can find ways to protect kids from further harm, protect others from collateral damage and protect the interests of the Church (whatever they are in these cases) all at the same time. Seems the prefer to walk on a beach sans any responsibility.
Hell, when the Church was a lot weaker and poorer it fought like hell to push boundaries through the legal system to defend and protect polygamy. Today, the Church has more legal “talent” at its disposal and power but appears reluctant to push boundaries that would protect victims. It seems content with the status quo when it comes to victims versus the interests of the Church.
I support the priest-penitent privilege — it has been tested over centuries and serves an important purpose. But that privilege is not commonly understood, so there is confusion. But while a penitent’s confession might be privileged, any indication of abuse from anyone else is reportable. So if a priest (or LDS bishop) learns from a woman that her husband might be abusing a child, the woman’s report is reportable.
Might a priest’s improper divulging of privileged information to law enforcement authorities benefit the offender, perhaps by making that information (or other information later obtained thereby) inadmissable in a future prosecution? No one wants that to happen.
It really is best to follow the law.
Abuse allegations should be reported to the local constabulary, not to the LDS bishop. However, bishops do not violate priest-penitent privilege by reporting information learned from victims or others — only a self-confession is privileged. And of course, everything has to be in accord with the local laws.
The Grand Scoobah, I am glad you did what you did.
A few quick observations:
— Professional, full-time clergy in other denominations for whom it is a life calling get much more training and have a much better understanding of their obligation to confidentiality, their priest-penitent privilege, their duty to report, and general pastoral training. LDS bishops get very little of this and consequently have little to guide them except what they’re told on the help line. In a messy case like this, a wise bishop should consult their own attorney who practices in their state and is familiar with the applicable state laws.
— Unlike other denominations with full-time clergy, LDS bishops have day jobs which may have conflicting duties. Law enforcement or a doctor may have an independent duty to report that conflicts with the confidentiality or priest-penitent privilege. Just makes it more complicated for the poor bishop.
— All institutions tend to protect themselves from liability, regardless of their PR professions of caring about their customers, clients, or members.
— Funny how much the Church trumpets confidentiality and privilege as a basis for not reporting these kinds of abuse cases, even when there is no legal bar to reporting — when in practice confidentiality in LDS meetings like ward council and even with bishop interviews is often not honored. It was Benjamin Franklin who said three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.
A huge process gap that appears to exist here is that all of the questions above that move this from the intake person/CSR to legal counsel are strictly about the abuser being in some way under the Church’s responsibility (employed by the church, abuse happened on church property or at a church-sponsored activity). The obvious question that is missing (one of them anyway) is: “Is there a risk of ongoing or future abuse?” That’s where privilege ceases to apply. Given this gap, the Church, and frankly Kirton McConkie maybe first and foremost, needs to bear some very serious consequences. Fortunately they have over $100B in our tithing dollars to throw at it.
Of course, another gap is that legal counsel also does not advise them to do mandatory reporting, which again, IMHO, puts Kirton McConkie directly in the cross-hairs. Additionally, I hope these bishops personally lose a civil suit if they are named. In the article, Bishop Herrod claimed that he didn’t know the abuse was ongoing, but he also heard from the wife that it was, and that she was incapable or unwilling to do anything about it. How exactly is that “not knowing” that the abuse was ongoing? The problem with holding bishops accountable, IMO, is that the higher up you get in the Church, the more it is a requirement to be “church-broke,” a yes man, willing to do exactly as told, even if every particle of your conscience is telling you otherwise. I can’t give either of these bishops a pass, and I would LOVE to see the smirk wiped off that Kirton McConkie lawyer’s face when their smug statement that the bishops “did nothing wrong” is disproven in a court of law.
The Church needs to:
– fire Kirton McConkie, which is long overdue. They’ve been proven time and time again to be amoral shills.
– move this department away from “risk management” which is a recipe for disaster.
– radically change this hotline, using advice from people who actually support victims.
– require reporting crimes as part of any repentance process. How is this not OBVIOUS??
Honestly, I’m not surprised. I’m disgusted, but I’m not surprised. And I agree with Elisa that supporting the SLTrib is important to anyone who wants accountability.
ji, if the law protected the priest-penitent relationship with exceptions, e.g., the priest MUST report sexual abuse, would that not be within the bounds of the law? It sounds like you are elevating the priest-penitent relationship above the immediate crisis for the child because the law may make certain information inadmissible in court because it was divulged during “confession.” If the law includes mandatory reporting, would that not then reverse the polarity and make the local leader and religious institution legally responsible for withholding information about the abuse? You also saying that the bishop had an avenue for reporting here without violating the relationship because he knew of the abuse from someone other than the confessor, correct?
In a nutshell, it sounds like you are saying that the bishop shouldn’t do something that would jeopardize prosecution of the assailant, but laws can be written to remove that jeopardy. (I say this with less than absolute confidence because, as I say above, I’m not a lawyer.)
I’ll just leave this here if anyone wants to support the Trib financially, even just once.
@hawkgrrrl22 and the other piece we aren’t even addressing here is that Church leaders often discourage VICTIMS from reporting if the perp is a church member … lots of accounts of this.
As to priest-penitent privilege, I have a hard time seeing how that applies outside of the Catholic Church, at least in cases where ongoing abuse and/or crimes in general are concerned. There is no confessional requirement in our Church. Theologically, this isn’t clearly supported.
@hawkgrrrl22 exactly – which means that the exception for mandatory reporting (based on some kind of core religious belief about confidentiality) isn’t met for the LDS church.
I’m not sure what makes me more sad, reading that heartbreaking story of what happened to two innocent girls, or some of the responses from patriarchy-types that believe clergy privilege is more important than protecting children (at BCC for example, not here). In the circles of the blogs, we all want change yesterday. But the rest of our tribe? I’m not so sure. I guess we get the church we deserve.
The thing about not paying tithing for four years is I have excess funds to throw at worthy causes. So thanks for the above link jaredsbrother.
This is absolutely nauseating. No true Christian would think twice about turning in a child abuser and extending help and protection to children. There is a prohibition against harming the Lord’s “little ones” in the Gospels. I am fairly certain that there is a millstone hanging around our institutional neck.
@jaredsbrother, every time you write “I’m not a lawyer,” I think of this:
And I’m pretty sure even a caveman – or at least a cavewoman – would know what the RIGHT thing to do is without having to consult a lawyer.
I know a man that was a police officer, and was told by the SP they he could not be called as a Bishop here in CA because he would be a mandatory reporter.
Thanks for the laugh, Elisa, and the reminder of how good Phil Hartman was. I’ll stop saying that now. If I had any confidence that interpretations of the law always track with what seems moral and logical, I’d probably not feel the need to add the asterisk.
I’m going to make a comment that I hope doesn’t take the thread too much off-topic. This story has reaffirmed something I’ve struggled to come to terms with over the past several years. The Church is not a Christian organization. It’s a corporation. Everything that happened in the story underscores how the Church bureaucracy is interested in protecting itself not caring for the one, the most vulnerable . The Church can go to great lengths to emphasize Christ’s name and abandon the name Mormon, but until leaders genuinely begin following Christ, it will never be a Christian institution. That’s why I want nothing to do with it.
“They draw near unto me with your lips, but their hearts are far from me.“
I should add the caveat that my comments are about the church as an institution, not individual members, many of whom strive to be true disciples.
//What benefits of the penitent-clergy privilege do you see? What exceptions, if any, should there be? Are you aware of any evidence that repentance “cures” sexual predators? If it doesn’t, then what should that mean for how the Church handles such confessions? //
I agree with HokieKate’s comments about the benefit of the penitent-clergy privilege. It’s meant for issues that don’t involve horrific crimes against children. It shocks me that the bishop just took the help line’s word for it and didn’t say anything. As a human being, didn’t he want to help those children?
This is a bit off-topic, but I think the Church’s rhetoric about healing from abuse goes too far. The promise is that through the atonement of Christ, a victim can be fully and completely healed from abuse. This allows someone who wants to minimize abuse to believe that a victim can be healed so completely that it’s like the abuse never happened. In other words, abuse can be a “victimless” crime because the victim can be healed! And if she continues to suffer from the abuse, that’s because she isn’t relying on Christ enough, so it’s her fault anyway. I understand the Church leaders’ wish to comfort victims, but I wish they understood that the best way to comfort victims is to refuse to soft-pedal the treatment of abusers.
The help line is about protecting the Church, not protecting the victims. That’s not going to change unless the First Presidency changes it. I hope this public outrage moves them in that direction.
The article made me sick. I started to ready it early this morning prior to a business meeting, but had to stop because I knew it would overwhelm me and I didn’t want to carry an amygdala response into my meeting. After the meeting I finished it. I haven’t been able to focus on much else since.
We all know what is legal and what is moral doesn’t necessarily overlap. It’s simple math that a church should place morality above legal considerations, or if not, as one commenter inferred, we concede we aren’t a church, we are a mere corporation. For years I have been critical of the church for practicing poor institutional ethics. I’ve argued that as a church we fail to teach Christ-centered morality, instead opting for an obedience culture. The church values property over people. Treasure over transparency. Patriarchy over penitence. This story reminds me it protects institutional interests over childhood innocence, and has for decades. You don’t have to ask around too deeply to find someone who has suffered abuse or knows someone who has been abused. I have a college friend who was sexually assaulted as a 15-year-old by a member of her ward’s young men’s presidency. She reported it to her parents and her bishop and was shut down. Her bishop told her he would take care of it, telling her to stay quiet because “you don’t want to ruin his marriage do you? his family do you? his career do you?” She didn’t disclose this to me until we were nearly 50-years-old. Her battle with depression and low self-worth during our time at BYU all made sense to me looking back after her disclosure. It’s abhorrent and does so much damage. How can the church act like this?
All organizations have these kinds of problems, but each can choose how to deal with them. It is clear our church’s priorities are corrupt and misaligned with Christ’s most fundamental teachings. We see this time and again. Sam Young’s work evidenced the systemic problems within the church’s ecclesiastical worthiness interviews, and the church’s failure to protect our most vulnerable members from zealous and perverted bishops. The church secretly amassed billions and the justification it presented for its lack of disclosure was a shameful projection of its own guilty conscience. The systemic BYU honor code / Title IX / sexual assault / campus police corruption debacle offers another look at the church’s blindness to the folly its own purity culture creates, and those whom its policies harm.
It is clear to me we are an organization incapable of self-policing and self-governance when it comes to these kinds of issues. The perpetuation of child sex abuse within our church organization is the product of its patriarchy. Put women in charge and I bet child sex abuse reporting church policy is retooled overnight.
Totally agree with how terrible the system for handling abuse is.
I also wondered why the perpetrator/father confessed to a bishop? Was it a call for help to stop him abusing? If it was the system failed again.
I can’t see any excuse for not reporting him to the law.
Where were the morals of the bishops who did nothing to stop the mans abuse continuing? The wife sounds abused too, and they did nothing to help her?
This is absolutely horrific. The details of the obviously immoral and self-protective practices and structures that the church has had in place for a long time make it even more obvious than it was before that the church is simply not a Christian institution, as S points out. The truly damning thing about all of this, IMHO, is the widespread, intentional and very detailed, specific efforts the church has in place to protect both abusers and itself. Essentially, the church is willing to sacrifice victims of the most horrible, devastating kinds of abuse in order to protect itself and the (potentially) repentant sinner. As Anna said on the BCC thread: “The Church makes the choice that a repentant sinner is of more value than an innocent child.” I am and have always been deeply cynical about the church and its stated goals and aspirations, but I found that sentence absolutely breathtaking. And true.
There is simply NO excuse, rationalization, or anything else that can at all minimize the abject evil that the church has (and is) perpetrating. It’s beyond depressing to see some folks over on BCC attempt to defend any of this. And I think Janey really hits on something when she mentions the church’s rhetoric about healing from abuse. The notion that the atonement can erase trauma and the other effects of abuse is simply a lie. Trauma cannot be undone in that manner and in my opinion, it’s insidious to teach such a thing. It’s another way of erasing the victim’s pain and trying to put at least some of the blame on them, as Janey points out. I’ve endured a lot of bullsh*t from this church in order to stay marginally engaged, but as I was reading this story this morning, the thought kept occurring to me that this would be what finally drives me out of the church for good. There is of course no justification for any of this, but one wonders how the church is going to try to spin it, if they do. As the story makes so clear, the church will try to say the right thing, but simply will not do it. I think Jesus mentioned something about people like that.
In most states school teachers, social workers, mental health workers, medical personnel (including nurses), paramedics, firemen, law enforcement, etc. are all mandatory reporters. I have no reason to doubt your story, but that means that if we strictly didn’t call such professions into Bishoprics and for some other leadership positions, we would be eliminating the most capable and talented of working with youth from those leadership callings.
Sam Young tried to warn us. And the leaders excommunicated him.
I am still haunted by this podcast episode from 2019. Have been waiting (hoping) for big news stories to drop. May they continue to drop and drop HARD.
I’m surprised no one has commented on this statement of charity by the lawyer representing the bishops & the church:
“These bishops did nothing wrong. They didn’t violate the law, and therefore they can’t be held liable,” he said. Maledon referred to the suit as “a money grab.”
Nothing tells the world of the church’s Christian compassion quite like trashing victims of child abuse- and these victims are STILL children.
Angela C., “There is no confessional requirement in our Church. Theologically, this isn’t clearly supported.”
Woah. You just blew my mind. Is confession required? Most of my life from 12yrs old on I understood confession of serious sins to be required for repentance. I believed that to be supported by BoM and D&C. Now I’m rethinking where I got that from.
This is very shocking because it is horrible, but is it not par for the course with the church? Really?
Thanks for your analysis, Elisa.
I think I used up all my outrage at BBC this morning, because now I am just unable to sleep at 3:00 am and yet so very tired of all this. I am not at all surprised by any of this. As someone said above, this is just par for the course for the church! and I am just too exhausted to even look up a few posts to see who said it.
Janey is so correct that the church throws out the atonement and promises total healing. HA! Not in this life there isn’t. That is such a lie, and what healing there is comes with a lot of struggle and not much support, because we wear people out because we need so much. No, I can’t ever go back and have a normal childhood, or an authentic relationship with my father. There is some that has healed after some 60 years, but there is still a lot that will not heal in this life. My parents are dead, and they never healed, so how could our relationship? Biggest step I ever took toward my healing was admitting that Mormonism is toxic to me. The church was never a source of healing, but was constantly ripping open the scars with condemnation for not being “over it”.
In the Mormon understanding of atonement there is forgiveness for the abuser, actually as my one therapist said, the Mormon God offers absolution without real repentance to the abuser. At least that was what it offered my abuser. For the survivor, it demands that we forgive before healing as if we owe it to our abuser.
No, the Mormon church minimizes the damage of the abuse. It pretends there is no lasting damage. I know the statistics of how many survivors kill themselves, marriages end, self harm, use drugs or alcohol or even sex to numb the pain. I have healed better than 95% of incest survivors, but there is still so much that will never heal.
And now I am just so tired and wish I could drag my husband out of this church.
I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs of the news article. So distressing.. yet, whilst I am just so disappointed with the church, I too am not surprised..
Here in the UK we’ve had over the last several years an ongoing enquiry into child sexual abuse (https://www.iicsa.org.uk/ ), particularly in connection with institutions, during which a number of reports have been published: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/reports-recommendations/publications/investigation
It would seem to be endemic, and it’s only by having these difficult enquires and conversations that protections for children are then put in place… essentially when they’re forced to..
This situation is beyond horrific. I cannot understand how someone at church headquarters or Kirton McConkie thinks this approach is protecting the good name of the church. Let’s play out an alternative scenario where the bishop informed law enforcement. The benefits are: a child is saved from years of horrific abuse, the bishop would be lauded for taking the right action, and by extension, the church would look good. The downside: maybe a news article recapping the situation mentions the perpetrator is a church member. However that would be more than outweighed by the bishops actions.
Instead the church advised covering this up, condemning the child to years of abuse. When the episode inevitably comes to light, the church looks awful.
What am I missing? How does someone in the church office building think this is protecting the name of the church?
Also, I’m not an attorney, but know that explicit instruction to destroy call logs, notes, etc just screams coverup to future plaintiffs. Are they really this clueless?
First I’ll say that I agree that the duty to do what is right trumps what is legally required.
As someone with no legal training, when I was bishop I was scared to death about this very situation. I took this responsibility very seriously and all bishops I know also did. There are bishops out there in good faith taking advice from fancy SLC lawyers who quickly find themselves out of their element. I feel bad for those acting in good faith. I feel worse for the victim. It’s a lose/lose situation for the victim and for the bishop acting in good faith. It places that much more responsibility on church HQ.
I had to call the hotline. It resulted in me contacting law enforcement at the suggestion of the attorney. I reliably know another situation in which the bishop called the hotline and accidentally revealed the name of the offender; the person receiving the call in SLC was obligated to call the police. Both of these were in AZ.
Greetings all. I can tell you as a former bishop, all of my discussions with the “help line” always and in every instance involved protecting the Church and cared nothing for the victims. This story is completely believable and absolutely makes me want to put my head in a trash can and throw up. I was always shocked when I talked to the “helpline.” They never cared one bit about the victims of these awful crimes. Perhaps it is time the Church institutionally have a milestone tied around its neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
One thing that jumps out to me is that the legal advice that Kirton-McConkie gives is actually very poor at protecting the interests of their client (the LDS church). Their status quo is to do all the very complicated parsing of state laws about “are we required to report? can we get away with not reporting? what excuses can we have when asked why we’re not reporting?”, and then getting sued later and having to make these massive settlements. How is that helpful to the LDS church?
Why not just limit liability by doing the right thing? Give blanket advice, “If you have suspicions, if you’re told that this is occurring, just go to the police – do not stop, do not pass go, get on the phone that minute and call the police and cooperate fully. Encourage church members and family to cooperate fully with the police investigation. Open up your records. Give comfort and love to the victim.” If they’d just do the right thing (along with background checks for church workers, good policies regarding adults being alone with children, etc) – then the legal liability would be reduced to zero, with very little legal bills. It seems like all these churches seem to somehow think that acknowledging that abusers can exist in their spaces would somehow diminish their reputation – and thus they have to absolutely cover up everything that might occur. But it’s more healthy to acknowledge that all organizations have humans in them, and some humans are abusers – and it’s our job to expose that, protect the victims, and make things right.
@Richard Matthews, that’s a great point. Sam Brunson posted over at By Common Consent arguing that the Church should actually be *advocating* for mandatory reporting laws (and associated immunity from retaliation for reporting) as better for the Church, not just victims.
It just doesn’t actually seem that hard to say “if you suspect abuse, report, you and the Church are not in charge or capable of handling this”
Unfortunately some Church leaders think that their “power of discernment” makes them capable of handling anything and everything, without expertise.
I put this in another comment but wanted to flag as I think it’s really salient to this conversation:
This issue is IMO totally intertwined with our frankly screwed up concept of “power of discernment” when we allow people in leadership positions to believe that they are somehow capable of handling issues well outside their training / expertise. Like that the spirit will just tell them the right way to handle abuse.
We have to let go of that. There are enough examples of abuse and incompetence and frankly evil at the highest levels of the Church (like mission / MTC presidents doing really awful things, and apostles doing really awful things, etc., or just dumb things mishandling issues like abuse) that we cannot leave these issues to “discernment.” Cause the evidence is in, and discernment isn’t protecting these kids.
What more evidence of corruption do we need? The Utah LDS Establishment is an offense to God.
The institution is the Harlot, and the congregation is the Bride.
Skipping a bunch of comments to reply to this one:
“Given that the first bishop was a doctor, didn’t he have an obligation to report as a mandatory reporter? Or did his role as bishop somehow trump that? I am a mandatory reporter and it is made clear to us that that applies all the time, not just in my role as an educator.”
When I was newly licensed in WA I asked a mentor about this specific situation since it was unclear to me. She said, and it’s advice I’ve followed, “even if you don’t _legally_ have to report in your role as a clergyperson, why wouldn’t you? Isn’t that the moral, ethical thing to do?” Since then, I’ve have made it clear that I take my role as a mandatory reporter very seriously and would report regardless of church policy or guidance.
What am I missing here? The Church has a help line for bishops to call when abuse is confessed or suspected, but is designed to help only the cases when perpetrator is in a position of power over children or youth and therefore a liability to the Church? There is no arm of the help line for guiding the bishop in notifying law enforcement, turning this over to professionals and helping victims getting professional help? Why would the Church do this to bishops, who are just people who accepted the call to turn over 5 years of their lives to serve keeping a ward alive, functioning? As these voluntolds are not trained in pastoral care, why do we ask them to become ad-hoc therapists and advisors? As they are not trained theologians, why do we encourage members to approach them for answers? Should the Church revise the role of bishop to be a unit administrator and ombudsperson (referring members to appropriate help), and finally acknowledge we don’t really have someone who functions as a pastor or priest or rabbi? Do we model other religious organizations, minus the training? (perform the duties of a pastor, in addition to your regular job, but without pay or training? And call our help line so you don’t make a mess of it and make the Church legally liable)?
I’m really trying to see the bigger picture and to understand the thinking behind the way things are currently handled (cause it is really, really bad, and in opposition to the Church’s own rhetoric).
I guess this is one of those “blips” that President Hinckley talked about in the Mike Wallace interview. A priesthood holder was r*ping an infant so young she couldn’t even hold her own head up yet. Blip!
It’s just awful that they call it the “help line.” Help for whom? This little girl and her baby sister?
I’m not usually one who wishes difficulty on the church. But now? Yes, I do. Because it looks like it will be the only way.
I’m with Anna, and my bandwidth for putting outrage into words is severely limited these days. But after my futile effort at BCC to spotlight the patriarchal chorus of victim dismissal, I took the time to read the comments here, which have much more helpful food for thought. First of all, Elisa’s OP is so well written, it’s already fairly well patriarchy-proofed, with the usual whining cut off before it can grow legs. (as it were)
I really like reading commenters reference to others’ comments, it helps my poor sievish brain. I found the mention of trauma edifying, (Janey, Brother Sky) and that the notion of the atonement erasing trauma is harmful to victims. Yeah, trauma is forever, like Christ’s nail prints. The best way is to remove the recurring venomous sting and treat the ongoing PTSD. IMHO. That’s why I find the report of a bishop knowing of incest and, on instructions of the church’s legal dept, doing nothing to remove that venom from that child, and lock the perp away from his other children to be morally unforgivable. Regardless of the legal finesse, and I condemn the legal finessers along with the perp/monster. If you intentionally care about victims, the first item on the list is the safety of the victim, because trauma is permanent.
Also pertinent is the mention of Sam Young’s work and the ugly response he received.
But Anna distills it all into the only way to talk truth, and it ain’t pretty, she calls lies and refers to Janey’s experienced commentary, and it is so very, very exhausting. I can’t do the words any more clearly.
Big Sky wrote a conference address, if GC talks spoke hard truths. It covered the issues concise and blunt, with poetic alliteration, but the last paragraph deserves a full quote. Here ya go:
“It is clear to me we are an organization incapable of self-policing and self-governance when it comes to these kinds of issues. The perpetuation of child sex abuse within our church organization is the product of its patriarchy. Put women in charge and I bet child sex abuse reporting church policy is retooled overnight.“
Artemis Clyde: ” Are they really this clueless?” Replace clueless with arrogant, and perhaps they are, at least at Kirton-McConkie, although at some point the Church bears the responsibilty for selecting and retaining them. It’s a chicken and egg question, I suspect. Is the Church terrible because they choose and stay with Kirton McConkie or is Kirton McConkie terrible because of how they represent the Church? But, perhaps it’s like missions, measuring the wrong metrics of success. It’s true that they are less likely to be sued by victims whose lives have been destroyed than it is to be sued by abusers who already get off on control and power (over their victims) and were successful enoug at navigating their situation to embolden their ongoing abuse of others. That’s why Sam B’s point at BCC is spot on. If the Church is so concerned about “false allegations” which it sure seems to be (nevermind the fact that such concerns in 2022 sound a lot like a police force justifying brutality or the idea that false allegations of sexual assault are anywhere near on par with the number of unreported rapes), they should use their Kirton McConkie resources and political muscle to push for mandatory reporting status and protections nationwide for all religions (except perhaps Catholicism which may warrant a special carve out).
It’s our Catholic Church sex scandal come-to-Jesus moment. Literally. Stand there and “tell him” how this is his church. Because I’m sure he’s not seeing it.
I will repeat what I said yesterday: They are not Christian.
The statement makes me sick. There’s no empathy or contrition. They double down and say the AP story was wrong. They don’t show how it mischaracterized facts—makes me think they know their actions are indefensible. They don’t lay out an action plan for systemic change. (And they can’t claim they were blindsided and couldn’t come up with something—they had to know the story was in the works. The AP would not publish this without seeking the Church’s comment.)
They need to fire their PR department and lawyers and turn to the scriptures. Blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, they who mourn, the poor in spirit. I don’t see any of this in that statement and the silence of the leaders.
MDearest, I really appreciated your comments over at BCC, you always make great contributions. There were a couple of comments made on that post that were so infuriating that I actually yelled, “GAAAH!!” out loud at my screen, which I think is a first for me.
Welcome to Wheat and Tares! I’d love it if you’d come here more often. I typically just lurk, but I’ve been doing so for about 15 years now and seen the Bloggernacle slowly change. In many ways W&T has become what BCC used to be in terms of regular, thoughtful posts and insightful comments – although less lawyers per capita 😉
The great thing about Elisa is she was a regular commenter who was invited to write earlier this year because of her wonderful comments. Her 3-part series on “The REAL Gay Agenda” is truly exemplary: https://wheatandtares.org/2022/03/03/the-real-gay-agenda-homophobia-russian-imperialism-and-the-lds-church-in-eastern-europe/
As far as this post and it’s topic, I just…… I’m surprised at just how angry I am. I WANT the Church to hurt because of this. I WANT public outrage and embarrassment and pressure brought to bear. Because it’s past time for institutional repentance. There needs to be a real, soul-searing, painful change of heart.
MDearest I thanked you for your comment over at BCC because I just couldn’t think straight to write something on my own. But commenters trying to justify child sex abuse is not ok. So thanks again for taking on the cyber bullies. And yes W&T is a much safer place for conversation.
Now this is damnation: that an infallible church can neither repent, nor be in doubt; cannot imagine itself to be in error, nor suffer any ill to be associated with its ‘good name’.
An infallible institution struggles to anticipate the future- being wholly consumed in existential defence of a sacred past that never was; and a precarious present that’s also unassailable.
We cannot reasonably claim to have fallible leaders running infallible institutions that cannot be legitimately challenged by members/.nonmembers in public or in private.
The late Oscar W. McConkie Jr. was the chairman of Kirton McConkie. He and his family were in my Tempe, Arizona ward when he served as mission president around 1973. The McConkies were always very nice to me. They were like church celebrities but never arrogant. I am very saddened they became the Church’s version of the Mafia. How much money have they made from the Church by effectively protecting abusers?
I mean no offence but truly, I’m not so sure I care for the debate as to who the ‘true Christians’ are anymore.
Atrocity is well associated with Christianity, though emphatically not peculiar to it.
I identify as an agnostic atheist and we too have plenty of misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc among us ‘nones’ that we are accountable for. Look at the Quebec ban on public servants wearing religious symbols.
Until our beliefs, values, & behaviour have more equitable outcomes, we too stand condemned regardless of our intentions.
In short, we can reconstruct the fence all we want, but its only through a tough **deconstruction** of these labels, and their significance, that we realize how self-serving our ‘no-true Scotsmanning’ of these issues is, and that it takes accountability & community to clean a community.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the hotline is ONLY for bishops and stake presidents. There is not a woman on Planet Earth, not one, who is *authorized* to dial this special men-only phone number. Like, do they know it’s 2022? Women are allowed to vote and own property and we are just as capable of dialing a phone as any man!
The Church put out a statement this morning saying:
“The nature and the purpose of the Church’s help line was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article. The help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met. It provides a place for local leaders, who serve voluntarily, to receive direction from experts to determine who should make a report and whether they (local leaders) should play a role in that reporting. When a leader calls the help line, the conversation is about how to stop the abuse, care for the victim and ensure compliance with reporting obligations, even in cases when the law provides clergy-penitent privilege or restricts what can be shared from private ecclesiastical conversations.” (If I drop a link, my comment gets caught in the spam filter, but the full statement is in the LDS Newsroom.)
As S noted, there aren’t any specifics here. The policy of destroying the record of the call as soon as its made is already suspect, and it means the Church can’t actually refute anything in the AP article. And clearly, based on comments in this thread from past bishops, whether or not a helpline call leads to reporting the abuse is hit or miss. The Church ought to survey its priesthood leaders and find out exactly what they think the helpline has advised them to do.
If the Church really wanted to refute the AP article, they ought to have a call log and a record that the bishop was told to report what was happening. Then whoever took the help line call should have logged a follow up to make sure the report happened. That basic info wouldn’t be attorney-client privileged. Their short and vague statement is basically just saying, “nuh-uh! you’re wrong!” without any real facts that refute what the AP article said.
@canadian dude, fair enough. I still think it’s reasonable to point out that a Church that claims it is literally led by Jesus Christ himself and suggests that our leadership have special insights into what he wants them to do is behaving this way.
@ Elisa, I understand and that makes sense.
I typed out a longer reply, but lost it all due to an accidental refresh.
It’s past 1:00 am and I am still in the red over everything. I cannot seem to move on and my words are now but ash. I cannot begin to imagine how the victims of this injustice, and others like it must be feeling.
So I’ll put on a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” and see myself out.
Tomorrow will have trouble enough.
Late to discussion, may have been already mentioned. How about a phone/computer hotline for all members to call.
I know some people will complain about everyone and everything.
But missionaries need a hotline.
Members need a hotline. Talking about problems with the bishop, SP, MP etc is like speaking to a rock.
When the culture protects the leaders and they stiffle all criticism…this is the result.
But this problem runs deeper than a phone hotline. It is the type of people called to these positions. Most these men are ladder climbers and only care about the church, and not real people. Frankly the whole LDS system on paper may work in a perfect world but since people are people…..the whole system is now beyond broken and corrupt.
Just as we complained about the Catholic church history……the LDS is repeating every mistake. All these stories need to come out. The church needs more embarrassment, until it finally apoligizes and changes. But we already know, zero apology is coming and the minor changes in the background will be framed as revelation.
By their fruits you shall know them
The church statement is a bit of a trainwreck. Accompanying articles in the Deseret News talk around the core issues. This one is not easily going away, nor should it.
Years ago, Juanita Brooks was taking heat for writing her classic in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Her loyal response was (I am paraphrasing from memory) is that “only the truth was good enough” for the Church. That is something the Church needs to embrace. Embrace the truth. Rectify the problems. Stop calling the lawyers in.
Count me as another former bishop who experienced nothing but grief from calling the hotline. One case in point: I had a former bishop’s wife come to me complaining of physical and mental abuse resulting from discovering her husband’s infidelity. The hotline response focused on healing the abuser – victim was never discussed. Long story short, the SP refused to even call a disciplinary council. The ex-bishop now lives in a palatial Park City home with the new wife – while the ex-wife lives in a basement apartment. In Mormonism, adultery does pay.
Rather than admit and resolve problems, the institutional Mormon Church offers opiates to their masses in the form of new temples and insincere gestures. Interesting that the purported “only true Church of Jesus Christ” refuses to offer apologies (thanks Dallin) because they are perfect and never make mistakes. We are too easily placated by their dumbed down pablum in the form of a new Dan Peterson movie or a Brad Wilcox fireside. It is long past time the lay membership stood our ground and insisted on meaningful dialogue and change. As members we are far too passive – especially when these issues arise.
The PR response to this issue is beyond absurd and extremely mean spirited. Add it to the long list of hypocritical actions.
@old man the statement is awful, which of course we’ve all come to expect. Any time they do a statement in response to abuse allegations (Joseph Bishop anyone?) they decide to play the victim card. Poor, oppressed, misunderstood $200B church.
@de novo that’s awful. Not to get off topic but I know of several cases where a husband has really put a wife through the wringer in a divorce and sits there in his big house in good standing in the Church while she’s impoverished.
Also, I’ve been following comments casually but hadn’t had a chance to carefully read until now and there are a lot I didn’t get a chance to acknowledge or respond to. But there have been so many good insights shared – thank you all for taking the time to engage with this, truly.
I’ve talked to family members and friends about this. They are all devout, but they are absolutely furious, several to the point of tears. My wife made the point that this is valuing mammon more than little girls. This story will echo in the hearts and minds of our youth more than a thousand general conference talks. I would personally hate to be one of the Bishops who had allowed this evil to occur. Truly men without honor. Good and honorable men and women don’t call Salt Lake when children have been harmed or are in danger. They report it to their state’s child welfare agency or law enforcement.
I appreciate the kind words directed to me that I read here yesterday. I’ve been commenting and/or lurking around the bloggernacle for a long time, during which I transitioned from church-broke to just broken. Blogger community has changed as well, and I think perhaps we’re the last dinosaurs here. Human connection in an online community can have certain limitations, so it’s a rare thing to find you’re not always blowing hot air into the ether.
I’m commenting again because I’ve been ruminating too, and have something more to add, if I can get it into the right words. A lot of the conversation here has focused on the victims and survivors of abuse, and rightly so. But so far, descriptions of and allusions to abusers have been rather oblique, here and elsewhere. Mostly condemning the plethora of concern by the church, by policy, by legal advice, and by individual leaders for the potential needs of the offender relative to the inadequate attention given to the needs of survivors. But just as trauma for survivors has its norms, so do the habits and attitudes of abusers have their norms.
And these guys (almost always guys) are skilled liars whose conscience has atrophied to nil. Clinicians here will recognize this, and I’m hesitant to describe this poorly, and welcome input. But my real-world experience with narcissistic abusers (for better or worse, that’s the common term) is that they absolutely refuse accountability, will hide their evils at any cost, they are very practiced at appearances, they know who to play and exactly how to play them, who they can ignore, and they Do. Not. Ever. Voluntarily change their behavior. There are a very few who, when forced into accountability, seek professional intervention, and find some empathy. So few who do such work to a semblance of completion, that they are rare exceptions, and yet our policy is to coddle offenders just in case they might wanna repent. And we allow them a standard of repentance that is a sham of the real thing.
Narc abusers exist on a continuum, with the extreme being those who commit crimes of abuse. The blight they perpetrate is now so commonly recognized by orderly society, that we have widespread mandates to report to law enforcement, and it keeps our judicial system occupied. It hasn’t always been so, which contributes to the massive problem we have with the judicial system often working against justice and healing for victims. But people on the front lines with victims, clinicians and law enforcement, know that arrest, conviction, and prison is the only way to keep society safe from these predators. Because they don’t stop, and they lie about it.
But there are many narc abusers who offend without committing a crime, and infidelity falls into this category. DeNovo and Elisa, this isn’t as off topic as you may think. It’s the same behaviors, the same lack of empathy or conscience, just to a lesser degree since what the self-absorbed, calculating dude wants isn’t technically illegal.
Though this is a whole nother conversation, it’s pertinent to the topic of these common cases of egregious crimes being allowed to continue unchecked. In my experience, the rot of self-absorbed narcissism extends to those in position to police the offenders. On some level, THEY recognize the entitlements they have in common with the abusers, and are reluctant to lower the boom as is needed. In fact, this rot is a product of unwarranted privilege, and afflicts some women too, and definitely afflicts blog commenters who are unable to muster perspective enough to focus on voiceless children left to a criminal abuser, but can only obfuscate about the poor menz’ hypothetical needs.
Gosh, how I do go on once I get into it. Wording is so hard. I know I’ve repeated many points here that have already been made upthread.
In summary, this is patriarchy, alive and humming right along, which is a huge, overarching topic, but sheds some light germane to this case, and the problem the church has facing this truthfully and fully accountable. Sadly, for us members of all types, who still have functional empathy, nothing else will fix this but truthful accountability. And narcs hate that.
Lds church statement includes:
“The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement.”
What did the lds church *do* for the children?
Slept well but still haunted.
They did too little, too late @Sasso.
Too little. Too late. Every time.
But the Dez News wants you not to worry, accounts of childhood trauma due to religious upbringing are overblown. /S
I cannot believe I once covenanted to be willing to give everything for this church- and I know that I’m not alone in that.
Despite losing most of my contacts, I know of four adults in the past year with families that have told me they are done with the church, either publicly or privately.
In short, the church is entering the ‘find out’ phase after years of enabling harmful beliefs & practices.
At the very least, it seems to me that there is nothing stopping a bishop from making an anonymous referral to the state or county hotline to report abuse.
According to the above information, the perpetrator of this terrible act was excommunicated. If he was a Melchizedek priesthood holder, the Disciplinary Council would consist of the Stake Presidency, the High Council, the Executive Secretary and the Stake Clerk. The information would have to be shared between 18 men. Question: does the clergy-penitent privilege apply to all 18 men?
@cm, and even if it did, did not a single one of those 18 men think better of allowing the abuse to continue instead of reporting?!?!?
Thank you MDearest. You have gotten to the heart of the matter,. Narcissism is definitely at play here. The description of the abuser in the AP article is of a classic narcissist. By playing the repentant sinner he manipulated the Bishop and the church, mostly likely for the attention he received and the thrill of continuing the abuse while feigning contrition. People who have not had experiences with narcissists ( I have)are so easily drawn in. So many victims here. My heart aches for the children.
MDearest brings up a good point. Conversations about abuse often focus on the victim to the point where we forget there were at least two other people involved – the abuser and the enabler. As MDearest says, the Church is reluctant to call out abusers. The Church is also reluctant to call out enablers, most likely because it is an enabler. Rooting enablers out of Church culture would take a seismic change, because so often the enablers are the ones pleading for “just one more chance” for someone and if you don’t recognize the difference between abuse (which rarely stops) and ordinary repentance, you may think the enabler is being Christlike for trying to give someone another chance. That second (or four hundredth) chance comes at the expense of the victim though.
This is a minor tidbit, but I appreciated that the writer of the AP story referred to the line the bishops call as a “so-called help line.” What a perfectly-applied use of the Church’s own language to critique it!
I am wondering why the first bishop who was also family physician to the abused girls does not have his license under review. Whatever regrettable advice from the “help” line he chose to follow in his capacity as a bishop, as an AZ physician he was still a mandatory reporter. He could have and should have brought that abuse to an end.
I’m sorry that I don’t expect more from the church and its lawyers. I do from a state medical board. I have to wonder what other patients he’s neglected.
There’s one data point in all the online discussions I’ve watched that hasn’t been brought up yet, and that’s who wrote the AP article: Michael Rezendes. If you’ve ever seen the 2015 movie Spotlight, you know who he is. If you haven’t, he was part of the Boston Globe team that exposed the Catholic Church’s cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in 2003 and won a Pulitzer for Public Service.
It is a BIG DEAL that he wrote this article. The Church should rightly be nervous about this. If you check out responses to his Twitter feed, there’s a lot of “Hoo-boy, #$%$ is about to get real for the Mormons!” Members responding in that section of the internet fall into those who mimic the Church’s PR response and those who are saying, “Don’t stop shining sunlight on this. We need to repent as a Church.”
If you work for BYU, your private conversations with your bishop are NOT private! They are shared with your employer, for crying out loud. The idea that the Church cares about priest-penitent privilege is preposterous.
I was just sitting here remembering the online debate over youth interviews. One reason given by apologists for the continuation of private interviews (without parents) with intrusive questions was so Bishops could “discern” when youth were being abused so the Bishops could then “protect” abused youth. I thought it was a hair-brained thing to say back then. Never bought into the discernment thing.
Well, the whole “protection” argument
has certainly fallen apart. They simply don’t protect victims.
It’s time to stop pampering these sexual predators, and largely ignoring the victims.
In the UK the prison sentences for sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults are so low that I honestly believe there need to be more serious measures taken, such as chemical castration. This is given as a monthly injection, and suppresses the levels of testosterone on the body. It can also limit or even stop a man experiencing such thoughts and inclinations. Some men detained under the Mental Act in Forensic Hospitals here are keen to keep taking this for this reason, even though they know they may remain detained in hospital.
I can’t help but think that if this was more widely used it could have a considerable impact – on such men – and society.
An alternative is actual surgical castration, an option for some men I’m sure.
One man in the UK had this procedure done at his request, to make sure he could never sexually abuse ever again. Food for thought there.