CASE REPORTS OF THE MORMON ALLIANCE
VOLUME 1, 1995
CONSIDERATIONS FOR A PUBLIC LDS POLICY ON CHILD
THE MORMON ALLIANCE
Notes for Chapter 7
An Associated Press report of the Ad Hoc Committee on
Sexual Abuse in Washington, D.C., surveyed 178 of the nation’s 188
dioceses and reported in November 1994 that nearly 90 percent had
policies on clergy sexual abuse but about a third lacked policies
covering sexual harassment and exploitation. The committee urged that
all units put broad policies in place.1
However, unlike most church and other organizations,
such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Mormon Church has no public
policy relating to sexual abuse of children by ecclesiastical officers.
Instead, its General Authorities deplore abuse in general terms and seem
to allow local officers to handle abuse complaints case by case.
Even when such cases have become public, no Church
spokesman, to my knowledge, has made any reported comment of any sort—not
even support for the survivors. In cases of suits, the de facto Church
spokesman becomes the attorney, who usually has an interest in
discrediting the survivors. Any local Saints who might feel sympathetic
are thus automatically put in the position of being "for" or
"against" the Church. While such public reticence may be
commendably cautious from a legal perspective, it seems cold and hostile
indeed from a religious organization that should provide succor and
support and that has, for three decades now, conspicuously positioned
itself as the defender of "the family."
The Church’s interest in protecting the
confidentiality of interviews with bishops and stake presidents is both
obvious and commendable, but the potential conflict of this policy with
believing and supporting abuse survivors is readily apparent. One Relief
Society president with a medical background who was thus professionally
knowledgeable about her state’s reporting laws sat quietly through a
meeting with the bishopric in which they discussed the situation of a
recently baptized family in which the teenage daughter was pregnant as a
result of incest by the stepfather. The mother had reported the case to
the bishop. The bishopric’s comments focused almost exclusively on how
to get the stepfather to "repent" so that the potential
resource he represented in a ward with few Melchizedek Priesthood
holders would not be lost to the Church. When they concluded the
discussion, the Relief Society president asked what message this concern
for and work with the stepfather would communicate to the wife, to the
pregnant teen, and to her younger sisters who were almost certainly
potential if not actual victims. She reminded them of the state
reporting laws, announced that if they did not immediately report the
case to the family services office that she would, and told the bishop
that he had her resignation if he wanted it. The bishop hastily
explained that he had not meant to slight the needs of the girls and
women in the family and complied with the law.
Martha Pierce, a guardian ad litem, appointed
by the court for children who are in the Utah judicial system, many
because of proven or alleged abuse of any type, explains the legal
requirements for reporting.2
The five conditions under which a religion leader
is not obligated to report child sexual abuse that he learns about
1. The leader must be acting in a professional
character at the time he receives the confession; if he receives it in
other circumstances, he may not keep it confidential.
2. The information must be received during a
confession. In the Catholic Church, it’s easy to tell when you’re
confessing because you’re in a confessional. In the LDS Church, that’s
where the line is kind of fuzzy. A recent Utah Supreme Court Case has
defined that setting very broadly. [She was referring to the Michelle
Scott case, described next.]3
3. The information must be obtained in the course
of discipline obtained by the church to which that person belongs.
Again, in the LDS Church, because a person is encouraged to bring his
problem to the bishop, it’s fuzzier to tell when a person is acting
"in the course of discipline." Sometimes bishops can claim
this exemption, even when they’re sitting in the perpetrator’s
living room and it comes up.
4. The information must come only from a
perpetrator. Therefore, if a witness or a victim tells the bishop, the
bishop must report it.
5. The bishop or cleric may have a religious duty
to keep the information confidential. Under religious guidelines,
bishops must keep confessional information confidential.
If any of these conditions are not satisfied, the
bishop, like anyone else, must report the abuse any time he has reason
to believe it’s occurring. In addition, the exemption can be lost if
later a victim or a witness comes to the bishop and reports the same
information he has received from the perpetrator. He must then report
it like anyone else. That’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s
not necessarily what does happen.
An active pro-victim stance, where the concern is
primarily for the victim, is certainly possible. The bishop has many
options. First, if the bishop hears a confession from the perpetrator,
he can encourage the perpetrator to turn himself or herself in.
Second, the bishop could call in other members of the family for
interviews. If he hears anything that constitutes neglect or abuse, he
could report that.
I wish bishops would be more respectful of their
own limits. Bishops define sexual abuse as a "family
matter." The bishop is almost always over his head. Incest is not
something you can fix in a simple interview. It’s a time to call in
authorities from the law, medicine, and the psycho-social fields.
I would like to see the Church working on behalf of
the people who really need their help—children. I frequently
see bishops testifying as character witnesses on behalf of the
perpetrator. They have a lot of credibility. I rarely see bishops
speaking for the victims. Who are we allying ourselves with? It’s
the children who are the weakest, who have no voice.
When the perpetrator is a boy in his late teens, I
often see the bishop trying to negotiate with the county attorney to
prosecute it, not as a felony but as a misdemeanor so that the boy can
go on his mission. It happens more than you would think. Perhaps they
should be more concerned about the victim, who is going to need a lot
of help to get on with his or her life. I would like to see the bishop
seeing himself as safe place.
Some observers are uncomfortable with the stance of
the LDS Church in a Utah case that was decided by the state Supreme
Court on 8 March 1994, feeling that it expressed over-concern with the
issue of confidentiality and a lack of concern for abuse survivors. The
court ruled that conversations with clergy are confidential "if the
person intends them to be, if he is seeking spiritual guidance or if the
conversation is part of church discipline."
Michelle Scott, born in Ohio, was adopted at age four
with her three younger siblings, by Steven LeRoy Hammock and his wife,
of Mesa, Arizona. The family moved frequently, eventually coming to Salt
Lake Valley. The Hammocks were active Mormons. Hammock worked with the
Boy Scouts; his wife taught Relief Society. They taught Sunday School
and willingly chaperoned youth trips. The children got up at 5 AM to
read the Book of Mormon.
Michelle remembers sitting on Hammock’s lap
watching television, both of them covered with a blanket, while he
fingered her vagina. He bathed her until she was thirteen and never
allowed her to lock the bathroom door. Michelle’s grades were poor, so
he made her copy pages from the encyclopedia or do pushups until her
arms could no longer support her body. He whipped her with a leather
belt, beat her with his fists, and kicked her. When she was a teenager,
he would take a shower, then make her walk on his back, then kiss her
passionately. He paid no attention to her sobs.
She shared a room with her sister. Hammock would
designate which of them should sleep in the bottom bunk each night. He
would come in to the bottom bunk late at night. Michelle learned to
misbehave, because then he would beat her. If she was "good,"
then she was sexually abused. When Hammock’s wife was out of town,
Hammock made Michelle sleep in his bed, fondling his penis until he
ejaculated, while he fondled her breasts and genitals.
Hammock was once discovered "in a sexual
situation" with Michelle. "He reported that she had become
promiscuous, and she was punished." The Hammocks asked the bishop
to counsel with Michelle about her misbehavior. He told her "to be
more respectful of her parents, to mind her father, and to help make
their home a more spiritual place."
She became suicidal and ran away frequently. At age
fifteen, she ran away again, filed a complaint, became a ward of the
state, was moved into two foster homes, and was adopted by another
family. A social worker and her foster parents believed her. Testifying
in court, she said, was "humiliating" because "‘the
bishop and all the Church leaders showed up in court… [and] told the
attorneys I was lying…Everyone in the Church was saying, "How can
they be bad people? We know them. We know they have the gospel in their
Hammock was charged with four counts of forcible
sexual abuse against Michelle and her sister. He pled guilty to two
counts of forcible sexual abuse. While criminal charges were pending, he
had several conversations with his bishop and was later excommunicated.
He now denies that the abuse took place. He served six months in an
inpatient treatment facility. The Church "refused to divulge
information that Hammock had previously revealed to Church
In 1989, Michelle filed a $2.5 million lawsuit
against her adoptive father. Hammock’s attorney quit in 1991 after
Hammock refused to answer questions about the case. The Utah Supreme
Court heard arguments at length about whether LDS officers had to
divulge the content of those conversations.
On the stand, Hammock refused to repeat what he had
said to his bishop although he acknowledged that "the conversation
was not a confession and he was not a penitent." Michelle
subpoenaed "documents…relating to the excommunication proceedings
and communications referring to the abuse of Hammock’s children. The
Church moved to quash the subpoena, citing clergy-penitent privilege.
Hammock sued for a protective order against disclosure, and the Church
joined in that action." A federal court in October 1993 awarded
damages in an undetermined amount to Michelle.
The newspaper accounts did not say whether the Church
joined in Hammock’s effort to protect himself before or after it
excommunicated him. The court ruled that "casual conversations or
conversations held in the hearing of those not directly involved with
the problem are not confidential."
Michelle Scott’s lawyer, Ross C. Anderson, insisted
that "the language of the law only protects a confession. Instead
of defining what a confession means under the law, the court ‘ignored
the language of the statute and, instead, ruled on what they thought the
law ought to be,’ he said. Under this new ruling, Utah’s
clergy-penitent law ‘protects anything that the church thinks is
confidential,’ he said. It was up to the Legislature, not the court,
to write a law that broad, he said. ‘No one wants them up there
legislating, and that’s exactly what they did in this case."’
Church lawyers and Hammock argued that "a broader interpretation
[of "confession"] was necessary to avoid discriminating
against religious denominations that do not require formal confessions
[as the Catholic Church does] but offer confidential spiritual advice,
counseling and guidance to members…Three of the four justices who
signed the ruling are members of the Mormon Church."4
Terry Jennings, a Mormon and deputy Maricopa County
(Arizona) attorney, comments, "‘We see a lot of this stuff, where
they have reported over the years to their minister or whomever, and it
didn’t get reported to law enforcement…. I can honestly say that it
wasn’t a conspiracy or anyone in cahoots. It was naïveté and
ignorance and failure to grasp how serious and sobering these situations
are and how devastating to kids.’ Jennings... at the Church’s
request, [has] repeatedly spoken to LDS leaders about their legal
responsibilities. ‘There’s a lot of handwringing out there,’ he
says….‘Some churches would never under any circumstances, regardless
of the reporting law or whatever, they’ll never tell you….I was
frustrated, because I thought, "Why wouldn’t every minister and
priest and bishop just want to get this out in the open? Instead of
protecting the perpetrator, why wouldn’t you want to protect
There are a number of reasons why ecclesiastical
officers are reluctant to take action on child sexual abuse: They are
uncomfortable generally dealing with people’s sexual misbehavior. It
is easy to doubt the story of a confused, frightened, and sometimes
incoherent child. It is hard to deal with an angry and frustrated
parent. Sexual abuse cases are embarrassing to the Church. The
ecclesiastical officer, as a man, may have felt some of the same
temptations as the perpetrator or may, in fact, be a perpetrator. The
Church’s de facto policy of silence and caution means that an
ecclesiastical officer must overcome a certain amount of inertia—sometimes
an enormous amount of inertia—to take action. It is easy to hope that
a scolding and some strict rules will effect "repentance" in
the perpetrator and that the whole problem can be solved quickly and
privately. And even ecclesiastical officers who take seriously their
responsibility to women and children unconsciously assume, due to the
Church’s higher valuation of active males, that men are simply more
important than women and children.
One case that never made it into the legal system
shows the influence of a bishop’s mistaken advice. Joe, a convert,
married Lisa, a lifelong member (both names are pseudonyms) in the
temple and had four children. Joe masturbated regularly, even though he
felt guilty about it. One night when his six-month-old daughter was
crying, Joe got up and took her into the bathroom with him. He began to
masturbate while she sucked on his finger. He "had her suck on his
penis until he ejaculated, then he wiped off her face and put her back
to bed." When she was three, he tickled and kissed her in the
shower. He kissed her vagina and masturbated while she watched. He
repeated the process with another daughter.
Uneasy but not sure why, Lisa confronted her husband.
He confessed. By this time, they were living in California. The bishop
advised Joe to turn himself in to the police; but when Child Protective
Service caseworkers ordered that he could not be in the house and could
have no contact with the children, the bishop instructed Lisa to forgive
Joe, work it out, and keep the family together. "‘He told me if I
didn’t forgive Joe, I was more at fault,"’ she says. The bishop
also told her not to let the children testify against Joe, so he was
For the next year, Joe "would intermittently
stay at the house with Lisa and their children. Counseling was an
on-and-off thing for both of them. CPS caseworkers made home visits and
repeatedly warned Lisa about Joe being in the home." They were on
the verge of taking the children out of the home, when Lisa became
terrified of Joe’s violence. According to Lisa, he raped her, tried to
strangle her, attacked her car with an axe, and was once hacking down
the door when the police arrived. She moved to Utah. After the statute
of limitations expired, he filed suit in 1993 seeking visitation rights.
The court granted supervised visitation.6
Obviously false accusations may and sometimes do
occur.7 Anne L. Horton, M.S.W., placed
the subject of false reporting in careful perspective by noting:
"Allegations of abuse are not necessarily untrue because a court
did not find the perpetrator guilty or did not prosecute. Meeting the
legal burden of proof is very difficult, and legally determined
innocence should not be interpreted as proof that the victim is
lying.... Always keep in mind that perpetrators can be anyone—regardless
of family, church, or community position." She describes a number
of scenarios of false reporting: a child may be coached to discredit a
parent during a divorce, custody, or visitation battle. A teen may
falsely accuse out of "anger or vindictiveness." A child,
seeing the turmoil an accusation brings into the family, may withdraw
his accusation so the family can stay together. Changing the story, she
points out, "may be the child’s way of adapting."
She summarizes: "How often do children falsely
report?…. Realistically, there is no objective way to know" but a
1991 study of professionals "working daily with abused
children" reported "only a small percentage…of untrue
allegations." She adds that if a child does make a false
allegation of abuse, that fact in itself merits professional
"investigation and treatment."8
In addition to the problems posed by potential false
memory are others. Clearly the accused has rights which must be
protected. Clearly, convicted and sentenced perpetrators have rights
too. Clearly society has a great interest in rehabilitation for
perpetrators. But equally clearly, the greatest burden of the abuse and
coping with its consequences are borne by the child. Should not
therefore the first priority be the protection of children, the
prevention of abuse, and rapid and effective intervention to reduce the
effects of abuse?
Carl M. Edgington, protesting the last-minute tactics
of a Utah senator in eliminating mandatory sentences for sex abusers
during the 1995 legislative session, commented in a letter to the
Let me speak as a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
Once you are abused as a child, your life changes forever. It is a
"lifetime" sentence. You never become unabused. You never
become pure, chaste, and undefiled. No one can make you totally whole.
Each suicide attempt does not make you more whole.
Every year of depression does not help to heal you. Nightmares do not
make life more pleasant. Low self-esteem does not add to
character-building. The money you spend for therapy and medication
does not build a nest egg for the future.9
One Utah therapist who saw scores of people who had
recovered memories of earlier abuse pointed out that childhood sexual
abuse is a bomb waiting to explode in adulthood. The impact on one’s
ability to relate to a marriage partner or to parent effectively is
enormous; many spouses don’t have the strength, the love, and the
long-term commitment to provide consistent support during the turmoil
and pain of dealing with the recovered memories. In his view, many
ecclesiastical leaders are not as helpful as they could and should be
because most of them simply have trouble believing that the problem is
as widespread, the consequences as serious, and the path to healing as
long as it really is. Most of them simply don’t want to know that a
pedophile will molest about two hundred children, and our trusting
community with its large number of children, trained to defer to
authority figures, is very tempting to them. But he also acknowledges
that many leaders have "a vested interest" in denial and
coverups. Leaders don’t want the bad publicity. Some are protecting
someone—a friend or relative. In a few cases, some are covering their
own pasts. He acknowledges the possibility of false accusations. He has
worked with those who have been falsely and maliciously accused of
sexual abuse. Not all therapists are wise and careful; they can suggest
false memories and then reinforce them, especially in people of marginal
emotional stability who are searching desperately for something that
explains their lives.10
Sexual abuse is monopolized by no denomination, nor
is any denomination immune from it. The Catholic Church has drawn
widespread media attention and public criticism for the number of
alleged abuse cases, its "get mean" legal policy of
counterattacking families who are alleging sexual abuse, what is seen as
covering up for offending priests, and the number and the size of its
In Ireland, according to a July 1995 report filed by
Reuter News Service, the previous "tumultuous seven months"
had been filled with reports of the sexual misbehavior of Catholic
priests including the conviction of Father Brendan Smyth in 1993 for
"repeatedly abusing children of friends over many years and trying
to cover it up." Prime Minister Albert Reynolds was "forced to
resign for defending top-level legal appointments when it was revealed
that the attorney general’s office had failed to act on an extradition
warrant for Smyth." Smyth is serving a four-year term but will
qualify for parole soon. Reynolds’s government had seemed a candidate
for a Nobel Peace prize for its success in reducing violence in Northern
Ireland. In June 1995, Belfast priest Daniel Curran was jailed for seven
years for "indecently assaulting" a series of young boys whom
he made drunk. He was sentenced on the day that Northern Ireland police
announced a "huge" investigation spanning thirty years of
claims of child abuse. Father Michael Cleary, a popular radio phone-in
cleric who died in 1993, had, according to media reports, fathered two
children by his housekeeper. Cardinal Cahal Daly, while pledging full
support for the police investigation and saying the church would offer
"‘no hiding place"’ for offenders, says that any
discussions will not include celibacy as negotiable.11
However, the contrast between a New Hampshire case
and two recent Salt Lake City cases show differences in how such cases
can be handled and the range of results that are possible.
In November 1994, Gordon MacRae, a former Catholic
priest, was sentenced in Keene, New Hampshire, to serve between
thirty-three and sixty-seven years for raping an altar boy, Thomas
Grover, in 1983. After he was convicted in September, he pled guilty of
assaulting three other boys. Grover’s brothers, David and John,
testified that he had also raped them and two more men offered similar
testimony. Before pleading guilty, MacRae sued the Grover brothers, the
Keene police department, and the police detective who investigated him.
Superior Court Arthur Brennan cited the lawsuits as evidence of MacRae’s
"contempt for his victims."12
A useful contrast, and one that conveys an immediate
impression of warmth, generosity, and concern, are two recent cases in
Salt Lake City’s Roman Catholic Diocese. In December 1993 a retired
priest, the Rev. Lawrence Spellen, a former pastor at St Patrick’s
Parish in Salt Lake City, told William K. Weigand, then bishop of Salt
Lake Roman Catholic Diocese, that he was being accused of sexual
misconduct during the mid-1980s. Diocesan officials conducted a
preliminary investigation, determined that the accusation had some
merit, placed Spellen on canonical suspension, and reported the
allegations to the Utah Division of Family Services. When the accuser,
now age twenty-seven, told Father Robert Bussen, the vicar general of
the diocese, that he was trying to break off the relationship, Bussen
offered to arrange therapeutic counseling, which the young man accepted.
In a second case, a man in his mid-twenties told
Bussen that he had been sexually abused by a lay volunteer at the
Cathedral of the Madeleine fifteen years before. He said he knew of
other victims, two of whom subsequently told their stories to diocese
officials. All three are now receiving professional counseling, although
the story does not say whether the Catholic Church is providing it.
Far from concealing these cases, Weigand related the
facts of both in the diocesan weekly newspaper, the Intermountain
Catholic, invited other abuse victims to contact Father Bussen, and
stated: "It is the diocese’s intention…to take whatever steps
are necessary to see that any victims are dealt with honestly and fairly
and compassionately and that the healing process be expedited. The
victimization of minors is morally wrong." He also expressed
concern for Spellen, age seventy-six, who had served thirty-four years
as a priest at seven Utah parishes and also taught at Judge Memorial
Catholic High School in Salt Lake City. Weigand commented on Spellen’s
"many years of effective service" and recognized that
"many who know Spellen ‘will be left terribly hurt and confused
by these allegations."’ Although the first case involved a
threatened lawsuit, none of the three victims in the second case was
contemplating legal action.13
Kindness and concern seem like useful policies, not
only in heading off legal action but also because they are, quite
simply, the only morally justifiable position a Christian organization
can take. Further evidence of continued openness occurred in February
1995 when four Maryland priests were removed from their parish
assignments and admitted to sexually abusing the same altar boy at St.
Matthias Church in Lanham, Maryland, during the 1970s. Three have been
arrested and charged; the fourth is still under investigation. Two of
the three priests, now ranging in age from seventy to fifty, also
admitted abusing at least one more youth. The Episcopal Diocese of
Massachusetts, after first expressing bewilderment at the March 1995
suicide of popular Bishop David Johnson, later disclosed a long history
of extra-marital affairs with women during his years as a priest and
Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co., of Fort Wayne,
Indiana, a company that insures some 21,000 congregations and one of the
nation’s three largest church insurers, sponsors a series of seminars
to educate ministers about sexual abuse in religious settings. The
demand was so great the seminars have increased six-fold.
Don Greene, one of its officers, says the company has
three goals: "to try to make sure not one more child is abused,…to
make certain people aren’t wrongly accused, and... [that] no church
tries to deny or cover up or minimize a case of molestation."
James Cobble, Jr., another officer, noted that fewer
than one-third of American churches screen employees, even though
churches "‘offer more opportunities for abuse than most places.’
Church services and social events are a draw to families and church
workers tend to be trusted by children and their parents."
In May 1995, Episcopal dioceses in New England began
requiring priests to fill out background questionnaires (40 of the 600
refused) because its insurance carrier in 1993 made sexual misconduct
liability separate from other coverage. To qualify for coverage,
churches must have "sexual misconduct policies, prevention
workshops for clergy and lay members, plus background checks." The
questionnaire also asks about a history of drug abuse or a charge of
misappropriating funds. Two Roman Catholic dioceses in Ohio require
clergy and lay leaders to sign affidavits "certifying that they
have never been involved in child abuse" and to have these
affidavits screened by police. The Salt Lake City Diocese for Utah’s
80,000 Catholics "runs background checks through the federal Bureau
of Criminal Investigation on new seminarians, priests moving to the
dioceses, school teachers, and anyone working in any capacity with
In such circumstances, the lack of a publicly
available policy for LDS congregations seems willfully defensive.
Perhaps a useful comparison comes from a related church. In August 1993,
for instance, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints, headquartered in Independence, Missouri, published in its
general magazine for all to read an official statement on
"Preventing Ministerial Sexual Misconduct."16
This statement, which LDS General Authorities might do well to consider
as a model for an official and equally public Mormon statement, reads in
To acknowledge that a primary concern for the
church in responding appropriately to sexual misconduct by leaders is
to recognize and to believe that such behavior happens....
Because religious leadership is a covenantal
relationship, sexual misconduct is a tragic betrayal of trust and an
abuse of power....
Power in priesthood and leadership relationships is
inevitably unbalanced because of the authority associated with the
office or ministry, as well as the actual power leaders have in
relationship and especially in contexts in which persons trust that
their vulnerability will be honored... A betrayal of this trust by the
abuse of power is also a devastating personal tragedy for the
offender. The offender’s access to the victim was as a
representative of God’s love and care. The betrayal, then, is an
abuse of the offender’s spiritual well-being as well as the victim’s
...We must acknowledge the responsibility
accompanying the exercise of power with which we are entrusted. We are
more likely to abuse such power when we fail to acknowledge it.
...Sexual abuse of children or adults is unlawful,
immoral, and a serious offense to the dignity of the human person as
created by God. The church does not condone abusive sexual behavior or
sexual misconduct in any form, and emphasizes that such behavior can
never be seen as arising out of the duties or employment of persons
serving the church.
...Sexual misconduct by ministers [defined as
"all members of the priesthood and all officers or leaders in the
church"] will not be tolerated.... The minister is always
responsible to not abuse his/her authority and power, even if
sexualized behavior is initiated by the other person; that by
definition the other person in the ministerial relationship is
vulnerable to abuse and when this vulnerability is taken advantage of,
the minister is in violation of a sacred trust and that in the
ministerial relationship there is an imbalance of power and authority
with the minister having greater authority and expected trust, thus
any possibility of meaningful consent by the other person to sexual
behavior is precluded.
The church recognizes sexual abuse as a crime…as
well as immoral and harmful to persons and society....
Allegations of child abuse should be immediately
reported to civil authorities with the church’s investigation to
follow or be concurrent with civil inquiry....
Where the evidence is unclear, the church shall
reserve the right to take whatever steps it determines prudent
to...represent the high priority of protecting all involved from
further risk, either of abuse or unfounded allegations.
When a sexual misconduct offense is found to have
been committed by a person affiliated with the church, the church’s
actions will be based upon promoting the healing of victims,
preventing further offenses, and encouraging adequate
treatment/monitoring of the offender. The church’s role is to
support the healing of all persons involved in an allegation or
incident of abuse, which role can best be performed by referral to
experts in the field of abuse treatment.
The church shall encourage addressing any incidents
of sexual abuse in an open and straightforward manner, while
protecting the privacy of the victim(s). In all public contacts or
questioning regarding the abuse, the church shall emphasize that the
church’s primary concern is for those harmed by the abuse....The
church will never ask a victim to give up any legal rights.
Other specific policies include education,
prevention, encouragement and support to ministers, a no-time-limit
policy on accepting reports, reporting past incidents with the same
promptness as current allegations, and high standards of success in
therapeutic treatment before a perpetrator may resume any ministerial
Linkup, organized in 1991 "in an effort to
assist victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse and to bring
institutional churches and religions to accountability," is the
largest advocacy group of its kind internationally. It takes a
four-pronged approach: healing, prevention, education, and resolution.
Five of its six goals focus on how "organized religious
develop and implement responsible
accountable policies and procedures to insure that
1. Within the limits of our present
professional knowledge, that candidates for the clergy are
pre-screened and evaluated by competent, qualified psychiatric
professionals for abusive behavior/tendencies prior to formation
acceptance, ordination, vows, commissioning and/or assignment.
2. Victims/survivors of clergy abuse
are encouraged to report their abusers both to church and to
appropriate civil authorities.
3. Consistent with each religion’s
theological tenets, it provides a therapeutic healing and
compassionate response to all victims of each and every abusive
situation and to all accused abusers.
4. That institutional religions
comply with and obey all civil laws regarding the reporting of alleged
and suspected instances of child abuse and fully, voluntarily, and
without reservation cooperate with the appropriate civil authorities
in any and all criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged
child abuse, and other criminal investigation.
5. That institutional religions
develop, maintain, and effectively utilize a record-keeping system of
reported abuse and reported abusers to prevent their being
"recycled" from one assignment to another where they are
likely to encounter other potential victims.17
It seems likely that one immediate effect of a public
policy, available to all members of the Church, is that parents of
abused children and teenagers would feel more comfortable in reporting
the abuse. Children and teens would know that what had happened was
wrong and not their fault. Another immediate consequence would be the
demolition of two common persuasive tactics of abusers: the exercise of
their authority to make the abuse "all right" and the claim
that George P. Lee made to Karen-that the abuse was "okay with
In an even more recent case, the Utah Court of
Appeals, reviewing the forcible sodomy conviction of Joseph Robert
Scieszka, now serving a five-to-life sentence, ruled that by praying
with a fourteen-year-old girl, teaching her Bible study class, and
telling her that God "approved of their intimate relationship"
he "clearly enticed her into sex." Scieszka, then thirty-five,
met a fourteen-year-old girl at a religious bookstore in St. George in
1991; under guise of helping her with her homework, he would pick her up
after school and take "her to deserted areas to kiss and fondle
her." The appellate court ruled that Scieszka "‘used his
faith and his religious position to eventually overcome the victim—who
was also a religious person and who sought the approval of God in her
daily life."’ The newspaper account did not specify the religion
of either person.18
The Mormon Alliance’s recommendations on the
subject of child sexual abuse are based on the belief that every
individual should feel safe and cared for both at home and at church.
However, some homes are abusive, and some church settings are abusive.
Even if one of these institutions fails, the other should become part of
the solution of creating healing and safety. Consequently, the Mormon
Alliance recommends a two-pronged approach to child abuse:
1. The Church can and should announce immediate,
firm, and public measures that will reduce the ease with which
perpetrators can use Church settings to find victims and which will
provide a place of safety for all individuals, particularly children,
who do not find respect for their sexual integrity in their homes. Such
measures include but are not limited to:
A pro-child policy available in
writing to all members of the Church, not only to leaders. It
should include, in clear language with examples, an explanation of
the legal mandate to report child abuse and the priest-penitent
Integration into the official
curriculum, especially to children and teens, of instruction about
sexual abuse: what it is, whose fault it is, how to report it, how
to find a safe environment, and what to do if the first recipient
of the report does not respond appropriately. Corresponding
lessons for parents should include instruction in local reporting
requirements and available community, as well as church,
Specific, recurring, inservice
training for all ecclesiastical officers and all teachers in
recognizing symptoms of child abuse in general and of incest in
particular. This training should also include appropriate
responses to disclosure of abuse, whether of a current situation
or one in the past.
A support network that includes
but is not limited to bishops and stake presidents. It should
include experts in victim rights and legal options as well as
information about sources available in the community. The presence
of this network should be widely known so that if bishops and
stake presidents are perpetrators, are ill-informed about abuse,
and/or are unsympathetic to reports, there are alternative forms
of support readily available.
Ready access to qualified
2. Individuals and parents must be aggressive in
defending themselves and their children from unwanted sexual activity.
They should inform themselves and members of their family about the
scope of sexual abuse, provide a supportive environment for victims of
sexual abuse, and insist that the Church not minimize incidents of
sexual abuse but rather deal directly and compassionately to stop abuse,
promote healing, and promote change for perpetrators.
Because of the possibility of unfounded allegations,
these activities should take place in the context of respecting the
privacy and legal rights of all involved.
Many bishops are sensitive, skilled, understanding,
and supportive when they learn about sexual abuse. Marion Burrows Smith,
as first director of the Inter-mountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center,
recalls that many bishops "were literal lifesavers" to abused
survivors. "Fourteen years ago, when I began practicing as a
therapist in the field of child sexual abuse, I met adult victims of
abuse who literally might not have survived if it had not been for the
extraordinary support of compassionate bishops. At its best," she
affirmed, "the Church system can work to help heal and improve
the stories of such strengthening support are not well known. They do
not appear in the Ensign, in lesson manuals, in the Church
News, or in other materials readily available to members of the
Systematic training for leaders in dealing with
sexual abuse seems rare; none seems to exist on a churchwide level for
members themselves although, hearteningly, anecdotes of training in
individual wards and stakes are beginning to be heard. Marion Smith
interviewed one Mormon woman in the Midwest who, because of mixed
feelings about the 800-number solution, reported: "[Those of us] in
stake Primary, Relief Society, and Young Women’s presidencies wanted
to find aggressive ways to provide support for victims and others,
beyond the 800 number. We got permission to put together a stake
training meeting for women leaders of Primary, Young Women, and Relief
Society concerning child abuse. With many of the men in ward and stake
leadership, we must battle the assumption that the story ends when
the abuse is reported."20
More encouragingly, in February 1996 one man reported
from outside Utah of attending a leadership meeting to address the issue
of child sexual abuse. According to his notes, the first thing the stake
presidency said was: "We are not experts in this area."
They stressed that "the first action the local church leader
is to take is to call the abuse hot line and talk to trained social
workers....They are "not to wait one minute to make this call. If
the bishop is out of town the counselors are not to wait for his
return." Speakers stressed that the primary concern should be the
victims. They should be assured that they are not at fault or guilty of
any sin, that the leader is concerned about them, and that the Lord
loves them. They are not to pry into the gory details with the
victim." At this meeting, stake leaders announced that every
allegation must be investigated. The local leader is never to tell local
officials that the church will handle the problem; rather they should
work with the governmental agencies.
Interesting enough, according to information received
in this meeting, the Church has implemented a worldwide tracking system.
Bishops are to send a "Request for Contact Form" (32387) to
the Membership Department, which is permanently affixed to the
perpetrator’s membership record. (There was no discussion about
tracking perpetrators who are excommunicated.) No matter where the
alleged perpetrator moves, the new bishop gets this "red flag"
notice to contact the previous bishop when the membership records
arrive; no callings are to be extended without checking the membership
This attendee was moved by his stake president’s
emphasis on the evil of any kind of abuse. "No human being owns
another or has the right to rule them by domination or compulsion,"
he insisted and quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s promise that the
Atonement not only paid for the sins of humankind but also for the pain
caused by those sins and can thus lift the burden of pain suffered by
victims of abuse.
All of the leaders present received a copy of the
1985 booklet Child Abuse: Helps for Ecclesiastical Leaders plus
some case studies and discussed in detail the section on responding
appropriately. He summarized, "The emphasis is most definitely on
caring for the victim. I think the Church has taken some very important
steps to solve this terrible problem."21
In a second example, in September 1995, a California
stake presidency and stake Primary presidency went systematically to
each ward, providing instruction in simultaneous one-hour meetings
during the three-hour block for children, Young Men/Young Women, and
adults. The children’s material came from a program called "I Can
Say No." The adult meeting focused on child abuse and spouse abuse.
According to one attendee, the stake president said, "In the past
we have been tempted to try and sweep these things under the rug. We
cannot afford to do that any longer." Commented the attendee:
"Better late than never, I guess, but I think today’s emphasis on
validating victims is a step in the right direction."22
Although better training for leaders is certainly
important, child abuse is a community-wide problem and many more people
than leaders should be involved in working against it. Many churches
have support groups for victims and survivors that perform a variety of
services. An unusual LDS example from the Midwest that deserves to be
widely replicated was reported recently in an Internet posting.
When Sarah (a pseudonym) learned that her
three-year-old daughter had been raped and sodomized by a
twenty-six-year-old non-Mormon neighbor and sometime babysitter, her
bishop, an attorney, was not only knowledgeable about victim rights and
legal recourse but had also formed and trained a support committee of
ward members, none of whom were in leadership positions, to provide
encouragement, a sounding board, and such simple services as attending
hearings with the mother.
"It helped Sarah so much just to have a
sympathetic friend sitting on a bench outside the detective’s office
or to drive her home after a draining court appearance, she reported.
Sarah was committed to keeping the perpetrator off the streets for as
long as possible and, thanks in part to feeling that she was not alone
in her fight, has been able to have a significant influence on the legal
For example, she learned that she could make a
"victim’s impact statement" at the sentencing hearing. There
she read into the public record parts of a written confession the
perpetrator had made to her that was not admissible at his trial. The
things he had written so disgusted the judge that he gave the man five
to fifteen years instead of probation. Although he must serve the
minimum five years, a parole hearing was scheduled after only three
months. Sarah telephoned all of the local newspapers before the hearing.
When the judge learned that one newspaper was planning to cover the
hearing, he cancelled it.
A year later, he received another parole hearing.
Again Sarah informed the press and made an impact statement. Parole was
again denied. Almost certainly he will receive parole at his third
hearing and will be on parole for five years.
In Sarah’s state, the prison system is required by
law to release certain information about the perpetrator’s status,
condition, and treatment results to the families of his victim. Almost
no one knows about this legal right because law enforcement personnel,
already overburdened, don’t volunteer the information. Most families
quickly become too exhausted to maintain the effort.
Sarah’s friend comments: "All of this has been
the result of the support committee that has encouraged Sarah, supported
her, was knowledgeable of her victim rights under the law, provided
information on the options available, and helped her to actively
participate in the outcome of the criminal prosecution and to get
justice for her daughter. I can’t tell you how healing it has been for
both of them. They feel a small sense of victory over this perpetrator.
They feel that they are back in control of their lives. Bishops and
stake presidents don’t have the time to effectively respond, minister,
and become experts on sexual abuse; but this example shows how effective
a trained group of individuals in a ward can be, and it also should help
members be able to articulate their needs to their leaders."23
Obviously community resources are widely available,
but the Church has largely chosen to stand aloof from them. Many schools
have age-specific dramatizations to help children identify danger
situations and appropriate responses with follow-up by trained case
workers if children want to talk privately afterwards. We have never
heard of such mini-dramas being used in Primaries or Young Men/Young
Women activities. Many police departments have special educational units
for arming children against "stranger danger," incest, and
molestation by older children. Again, we have heard no reports of such
trained professional resources being employed in Primaries and youth
organizations. A series of national satellite conferences on child-abuse
intervention and treatment from the National Children’s Advocacy
Center and the National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse was
advertised in late April 1996.24 With
satellite capacity in every stake center in the United States and Canada
that is already used for CES firesides, missionary programs, general
conferences, and women’s conferences, the Church certainly has
hardware already in place for a similar set of programs for parents,
teens, and children, not to mention for training male and female
leaders. But the Church has made no effort to employ this resource in
dealing with sexual abuse.
However, in places without such wide-scale local
efforts, members have only the vaguest expectations of how their
ecclesiastical leaders will behave, and leaders themselves lack a
growing body of anecdotal information, role models, and "great
examples" to fall back on when it is their turn to be appealed to.
Many of them—we hope most—rise to the occasion.
However, the complex, three-part case report which follows,
"Oklahoma Nightmare," tells a different story. In two cases,
bishops were the alleged perpetrators. Nor were any Church leaders
supportive as survivors and family members faced the realities of abuse.
Sexual abuse is difficult enough to deal with,
without feeling the support of one’s faith community snatched away by
a leader’s disbelief, denial, or punitive action. It is a double
betrayal—devastating, savage, and shredding. Abused members are driven
through layers of injustice. First is the abuse itself, inflicted by
someone who supposedly loves the victim and is a representative for God.
Yet even little children and most adults can understand without too much
difficulty that a particular individual may be bad and do wrong things,
as long as the rest of the environment is supportive and unanimous in
labeling the abuse as wrong. But the second step occurs when the Church
itself, in the person of its representatives, denies the abuse,
threatens to punish those who tell, and exercises tactics of
The betrayal may not end there. The Church’s
hierarchical levels continue to hold out hope for redress. The logic
goes like this: After all, a bishop can be wrong or ignorant or mistaken
or insensitive, but surely the stake president will understand? Or if
the stake president also turns out to be part of the problem, then
surely the area president or another General Authority will understand?
And the First Presidency— even the prophet?—surely they are so close
to God that they will assuredly understand, redress wrongs, and heal the
The mockery of hope receding, step by step, as
intimidation on the local level is succeeded by silence on the highest
levels baffles, bewilders, and angers victims and their families. It
shreds their self-esteem and demolishes their trust in the Church.
In the complex trio of case reports which follows,
leaders were not part of the solution. The task of safeguarding the
children was left to the people who had the least power to do so: a
battered and traumatized wife, a mother and father dealing with
ecclesiastical sexual abuse on the father’s part and the beginnings of
remembered incest on the mother’s, a family without money or
influence, people who had to deal simultaneously with the paralysis
engendered by their own suffering and inadequacy and torment. It is
important to recognize that they all began this story as active and
committed members of the Church. One of the cruelest parts of what
happened to them is that their leaders forced them to choose between
loyalty to the Church they loved and loyalty to telling the truth and
protecting their children.
Click on the Back button to return to the reference.
Start Extending Rules on Sexual Misconduct," and "Ex-Priest
Sentenced as a ‘Sexual Predator"’ (sidebar), Deseret News,
15-16 November 1994, A-8.
2 Martha Pierce,
"Child Sexual Abuse in the LDS Community: A Panel," chaired by
Marion B. Smith, Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1994,
the Utah legislature was considering a bill to protect
"priest-penitent" privilege in the early 1990s, an observer at
the legislative committee hearings and a panel sponsored by Utah’s
Children noted that the Church was represented, not by a General
Authority, but by Lloyd Poelman. Most area churches were represented by
high-ranking ecclesiastical officials. The Episcopalian spokesman and
others said they would not hesitate to reveal a confession if keeping it
secret would damage a child. In contrast, the Catholic bishop stated he
would break the law rather than violate a confessional. Poelman defined
the Mormon Church’s position as "somewhere between" these
two options. The intent of most clergy testifying before the legislative
committee was that a confession should be respected only under strict
parameters and must meet more rigid requirements to be honored than the
interpretation the Utah Supreme Court used in the Scott case.
Heinz, "Court Rules Talks with LDS Bishops Are Confidential," Salt
Lake Tribune, March 8,1994, D-1, D.3; Marianne Funk,
"Conversation with Clergy Are Privileged," Deseret News, March
8-9, 1994, B-1, B-2; Lisa Davis, "Sins of the Temple," New
Times (Phoenix, Arizona), 22-23 September 1994, 27-28.
"Sins of the Temple," 22.
6 lbid., 23-24.
1994, a California jury awarded half a million dollars to a winery
executive who sued his daughter’s therapists for implanting false
memories that he had raped her as a child. In August 1995, a jury
awarded Vynnette Hamanne $2.5 million in a suit against her therapist,
Diane Humenansky, for implanting memories of "bizarre childhood
sexual abuse involving satanic rituals," including seeing her
grandmother stir a "cauldron of dead babies." It was the
largest judgment ever handed down against a doctor. At least five other
civil lawsuits are pending against Humenansky by patients who allege she
"subjected them to an increasingly coercive program of
mind-altering drugs, hypnosis, and threats." Associated Press, St.
Paul, Minn., "False Memories Lawsuit Nets a Big Award," Salt
Lake Tribune, 4 August 1995, A-I 3.
L. Horton, "A Word about False Reporting," in Confronting
Abuse: An LDS Perspective on Understanding and Healing Emotional,
Physical, Sexual, Psychological, and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Anne
L Horton, B. Kent Harrison, and Barry L Johnson (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1993), 51-52.
M. Edgington, "Abused Again," Salt Lake Tribune, 15
April 1995, A-10.
Carlson, on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation lecture circuit after
winning a malpractice award in January 1996 against her psychiatrist for
implanting memories of sexual abuse, was awarded damages of more than $2
million. The foundation claims to have documented 800 suits, more than
600 of them filed by adult children suing parents after they recovered
"memories" of abuse during therapy. Two thirds were dropped by
the plaintiff or dismissed by the courts. Of those that went to trial,
two thirds result in a finding for the defendants. Carlson and Eleanor
Goldstein, the author of two books on families "torn apart by
allegations of repressed memories of sexual abuse," visited Salt
Lake City in the spring of 1996 and met with Utah lawmakers to urge
restrictions on how recovered memories could be used as evidence. Anne
Wilson, "No Thanks for the Memories: Group Fights ‘Planted’
Tales of Sexual Abuse," Salt Lake Tribune, 1 April 1996,
News Service, "Sexual Sins of Irish Clergy Plunge Church into
Crisis," Deseret News, 8 July 1995, B-5.
"Dioceses Start Extending Rules on Sexual Misconduct," and
"Ex-Priest Sentenced as a ‘Sexual Predator,"’ (sidebar), Deseret
News, 15-16 November 1994, A-8.
Thompson, "Bishop Weigand Notes Sexual-Misconduct Allegations
Against 2," Deseret News, 18
December 1993, B-2.
Press, "3 Maryland Priests Charged with Child Sex Abuse in ‘70s,"
and Gustav Spohn, Religion News Service, "Critics Laud Churches’
Openness on Sexual Abuse," Salt Lake
Tribune, 18 Feb. 1995, B2.
Johnson, "Sexual Scandals Force Background Checks on Clergy," Salt
Lake Tribune, 12 Aug. 1995, C-3.
High Council, "Preventing Ministerial Sexual Misconduct," Saints
Herald, August 1993, 3-8. The RLDS First Presidency’s headnote to
this statement said that "the council’s work in this area will
continue, but we have determined that the statement... should be made
available to the church for study and discussion."
Linkup: Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse," (orientation pamphlet),
n.d., n.p. National offices: 1412 W. Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL
60640, 312-334-2296; FAX 312-334-3397.
Press, "‘Enticement’ It Was, Court Says," Deseret News,
2 July 1995, B-4.
19 Marion Smith,
"Blame the Victim: Hushing Mormon Sexual Abuse," Event (Salt
Lake City), March 28, 1996, 9.
21 Name withheld,
Internet posting, 18 February 1996, used by permission.
22 Name withheld,
Internet posting, 25 September 1995, used by permission.
23 Name withheld,
Internet posting, 27 February 1996, used by permission.
24 The three-hour
programs, designed especially "for mental-health professionals and
law enforcement," were "Transforming Trauma: How Sexual
Offenders Get Into the Heads of Victims, and How to Get Them Out"
by Anna Salter; "Making Courts Safe for Children (and for
Professionals Who Testify on Their Behalf)" by Charles B. Schudson,
and "Brief Therapy with Child Sexual Assault Victims" by
Benjamin Saunders. "Programs Set on Sex Abuse," Deseret
News, 22 April 1996, D-2.