Chapter 1
Home Up

VOLUME 1, 1995

Chapter 1




Endnotes for Chapter 1

Next to scripture, the strongest guidelines for the lives of Latter-day Saints are statements by General Authorities made in general conference. This chapter reports:

  1. Statements made by General Authorities in conference.
  2. The current unsatisfactory status of Utah’s Division of Family Services.
  3. One example of an unsatisfactory Church representative on a government entity dealing with child abuse.



General Authorities have strongly and unequivocally denounced the physical and sexual abuse of children, but they have not been equally strong in suggesting courses of action for either victims or their supporters to take.

Gordon B. Hinckley, addressing the priesthood session of the April 1985 general conference, made the lengthiest statement, to date, in that setting against child abuse:

There appears to be a plague of child abuse spreading across the world. Perhaps it has always been with us but has not received the attention it presently receives. I am glad there is a hue and cry going up against this terrible evil, too much of which is found among our own. Fathers, you cannot abuse your little ones without offending God. Any man involved in an incestuous relationship is unworthy to hold the priesthood. He is unworthy to hold membership in the Church and should be dealt with accordingly. Any man who beats or in other ways abuses his children will be held accountable before the great judge of us all. If there be any within the sound of my voice who are guilty of such practices, let them repent forthwith, make amends where possible, develop within themselves that discipline which can curb such evil practices, plead with the Lord for forgiveness, and resolve within their hearts henceforth to walk with clean hands.1

Although no one can mistake the abhorrence with which President Hinckley regards sexual and physical abuse or the clear implications about an incestuous male’s unworthiness to be a priesthood holder or member of the Church, this statement focuses exclusively on the perpetrator. it offers no comfort sympathy, or support for victims. Ironically, despite its negative attention to the perpetrator, it does not give realistic advice on how the offender can "develop ... discipline." Most child abusers cannot simply "stop" without direct, long-term, and professional intervention. Will power is not enough. Furthermore, in addressing only the perpetrator, this statement also has no counsel for either the survivor of abuse or the survivor’s support people—such as a mother, a sibling, or a friend. It also does not directly address the responsibility of ecclesiastical officers to intervene to protect children. It does not validate victims in seeking help or strongly encourage others to intervene on behalf of the victims.

At April 1991 general conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in an address on honoring parents, quoted Col. 3:20: "‘Children, obey your parents in all things"’ and added "I believe he meant all righteous things," a welcome though muted recognition of the problem of child sexual abuse.2

President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaking in the Sunday morning session of October 1991 general conference:

Some children witness their fathers savagely beating their mothers, while others are on the receiving end of such abuse. What cowardice, what depravity, what shame!

Local hospitals everywhere receive these little ones, bruised and battered, accompanied by bald-faced lies that the child "ran into the door" or fell down the stairs." Liars, bullies who abuse children, they will one day reap the whirlwind of their foul deeds. The quiet, the hurt, the offended child victim of abuse, and at times incest, must receive help.... [He here quoted the statement of a judge about the seriousness of child abuse.]

The Church does not condone such heinous and vile conduct. Rather, we condemn in the harshest of terms such treatment of God’s precious children. Let the child be rescued, nurtured, loved, and healed. Let the offender be brought to justice, to accountability, for his actions and receive professional treatment to curtail such wicked and devilish conduct. When you and I know of such conduct and fail to take action to eradicate it, we become part of the problem. We share part of the guilt. We experience part of the punishment.

I trust I have not spoken too harshly, but I love these little ones.3

Once again, while denouncing the sinful behavior in strong language and expressing disgust for perpetrators and support for victims, President Monson does not give instructions about how those children must be helped. He has no specific message to bishops, parents, or to the survivors. He does not advocate the use of community resources, counseling, strict standards of reporting, becoming knowledgeable about local laws, or networking within the community. In fact, his use of the passive voice ("Let the child be rescued ... Let the offender be brought to justice ... ) makes no one responsible for rescuing, no one responsible for bringing the offender to justice. "Taking action to eradicate" sounds specific but actually is not.

At the very next general conference, the need for more specific guidelines and also for direct counsel to survivors was met by Apostle Richard G. Scott.4 Unfortunately, the results were, to put it mildly, mixed. To Elder Scott’s credit, he acknowledged the "serious, enduring consequences" that can result from abuse, including "fear, depression, guilt, self-hatred, destruction of self-esteem, ... alienation from normal human relationships, ... rebellion, anger, ... hatred, ... drug abuse, immorality, abandonment of home … suicide, ... despondent lives, discordant marriages, ... the transition from victim to abuser, ... [and] a deepening lack of trust in others." He clearly labeled abuse "another’s unrighteous attack on your freedom" and reassured: "Your Heavenly Father does not want you to be held captive by unrighteous influence, by threats of reprisal, or by fear of repercussion to the family member who abuses you ... When another’s acts of violence, perversion, or incest hurt you terribly, against your will, you are not responsible and you must not feel guilty." He acknowledged, "To be counseled to just forget abuse is not helpful. You need to understand the principles which will bring healing."

He then instructed survivors (whom he addressed throughout as "victims") that "the wicked choice of others cannot completely destroy your agency unless you permit it .... You are free to determine to overcome the harmful results of abuse." The first avenue of help should be the bishop who "can provide a doctrinal foundation to guide you to recovery ... He has the right to be inspired of the Lord in your behalf. He can use the priesthood to bless you, ... help you identify trustworthy friends … [and] help you identify appropriate protection and professional treatment consistent with the teachings of the Savior."

He next listed several "principles of healing": "Recognize that ... Heavenly Father ... can help you as no earthly parent, spouse, or devoted friend can. ... [Ponder] the scriptures. ... When you permit it, the love of the Savior will soften your heart, break the cycle of abuse that can transform a victim into an aggressor. ... Do not waste effort in revenge or retribution. ... Leave the handling of the offender to civil and Church authorities. Whatever they do, eventually, the guilty will face the Perfect Judge."

He also counseled survivors to work toward forgiving the perpetrator beginning by "withholding judgment. You don’t know what abusers may have suffered as victims when innocent. The way to repentance must be kept open for them."

The two most controversial parts of his talk were criticized as revictimizing the victim and as making ill-advised evaluations of therapeutic interventions:

The victim must do all in his or her power to stop the abuse. Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise, the seeds of guilt will remain and sprout into bitter fruit Yet no matter what degree of responsibility, from absolutely none to increasing consent, the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ can provide a complete cure. Forgiveness can be obtained for all involved in abuse. ...

I caution you not to participate in two improper therapeutic practices that may cause you more harm than good. They are: Excessive probing into every minute detail of your past experiences, particularly when this involves penetrating dialogue in group discussion; and blaming the abuser for every difficulty in your life.

While some discovery is vital to the healing process, the almost morbid probing into details of past acts, long buried and mercifully forgotten, can be shattering. There is no need to pick at healing wounds to open them and cause them to fester. The Lord and his teachings can help you without destroying self-respect.

There is another danger. Detailed leading questions that probe your past may unwittingly trigger thoughts that are more imagination or fantasy than reality. They could lead to condemnation of another for acts that were not committed. While likely few in number, I know of cases where such therapy has caused great injustice to the innocent from unwittingly stimulated accusation that were later proven false. Memory, particularly adult memory of childhood experiences, is fallible. Remember, false accusation is also a sin. ...

The repair of damage inflicted by abuse should be done privately, confidentially, with a trusted priesthood leader and, where needed, the qualified professional he recommends. There must be sufficient discussion of the general nature of abuse to allow you to be given appropriate counsel and to prevent the aggressor from committing more violence. Then, with the help of the Lord, bury the past. ...

Should ugly thoughts of past abuse come back, remember [the Savior’s] love and his healing power. Your depression will be converted to peace and assurance.

Elder Scott’s talk epitomizes the basic problem in the Church hierarchy’s attitude. While he sincerely offers sympathy for victims and condemns the crime, at the same time he displays ignorance of the basic dynamics of child abuse and its trauma and of the healing process; he revictimizes survivors. It is not possible for a child in any way to be responsible for stopping child abuse. By definition, child abuse implies a power differential of such magnitude that, even if the child somehow initiated the abuse, the responsibility rests on the perpetrator, upon the adult. This is the position consistently taken in legal cases, and it is also borne out by research and therapy. Shame and guilt universally accompany the trauma for the child. Always the child asks, "Why didn’t I stop it? Why didn’t I tell?" By asking these questions from the pulpit, Scott subtly revictimizes the child.

Marion Burrows Smith, a therapist specializing in child sexual abuse commented on Elder Scott’s address: "Scott does not understand the therapeutic process as validated in tens of thousands of cases of child sexual abuse. He cannot presume to use metaphors about scratching a wound when in fact the victim may need to scratch it countless times and may experience a continual bleeding. A nonprofessional unacquainted with an individual case cannot presume to dictate what the therapy process should be, who is the best therapist for the individual, and certainly not how forgiveness can ultimately be achieved. Scott demands a stance of forgiveness regardless of whether the perpetrator even acknowledges the crime and regardless of whether the victim has begun to heal. Such attitudes often make survivors leave the Church and never seek further dialogue with Church leaders." 5

Given the built-in problems with Elder Scott’s approach, it is indeed regrettable that General Authorities supply abuse survivors who write to them for help with copies of this talk, which they commend as "wise counsel." (See Chapter 16, "Disciplinary Councils and Appeals: Summer 1994.")

At October 1994 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley described and deplored the many ways in which children suffer, including starvation, war, unwed pregnancy, and poverty. Then he continued:

Then there is the terrible, inexcusable, and evil phenomenon of physical and sexual abuse.

It is unnecessary. It is unjustified. It is indefensible.

In terms of physical abuse, I have never accepted the principle of "spare the rod and spoil the child." I will be forever grateful for a father who never laid a hand in anger upon his children. Somehow he had the wonderful talent to let them know what was expected of them and to give them encouragement in achieving it.

I am persuaded that violent fathers produce violent sons. I am satisfied that such punishment in most instances does more damage than good. Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement. They need fathers to whom they can look with respect rather than fear. Above all, they need examples....

And then there is the terrible, vicious practice of sexual abuse. It is beyond understanding. It is an affront to the decency that ought to exist in every man and woman. It is a violation of that which is sacred and divine. It is destructive in the lives of children. It is reprehensible and worthy of the most severe condemnation.

Shame on any man or woman who would sexually abuse a child. In doing so, the abuser not only does the most serious kind of injury. He or she also stands condemned before the Lord. ...

If there be any within the sound of my voice who may be guilty of such [a] practice, I urge you with all of the capacity of which I am capable to stop it, to run from it, to get help, to plead with the Lord for forgiveness and make amends to those whom you have offended.6

Again, this statement leaves the offender without excuse, but the counsel to "stop it" does not realistically account for the fact that most child abusers simply cannot "stop" without direct, long-term, and professional intervention. According to one national organization, "during their life time, each pedophile tends to abuse an average [of] 265 victims. Of the 265 victims, 50% will become potential offenders."7 Again, President Hinckley’s statement omits from its audience the survivor of abuse, ecclesiastical officers dealing with cases of abuse, or the family and friends of abuse survivors. Particularly conspicuous by its omission is a statement about the responsibility of ecclesiastical officers to intervene to protect children.


Although there is no necessary connection between the Church’s approach of "sympathy for the victim" but lack of clear guidelines on protection, self-defense, and intervention and Utah’s programs to deal with the problem of child sexual abuse, it is possible that Utah officials also share the limitations of President Hinckley’s perspective. In Utah, juvenile sexual offenders are receiving, for the most part, inadequate help in identifying healthier ways of behaving. The whereabouts of a whopping 45 percent of convicted juvenile sexual offenders is unknown; 25 percent are on probation, 20 percent are under the supervision of the Division of Family Services, a group that has been under official censure in the state for five years for its record of ineffectiveness, and 10 percent are jailed with the Division of Youth Corrections. Forty-three percent of the reported 2,282 Utah juveniles who were sexually abused in 1993 were assaulted by other juveniles, and an estimated 70 percent of sex offenses committed by juveniles are never reported. Between 1973 and 1994, the rate of sexual assaults by juveniles in Utah tripled; 77 percent of Utah’s juvenile sex offenders are between thirteen and eighteen, 20 percent are between nine and twelve, and the remaining 3 percent are children eight and under. Seventy-four percent of the "most serious crimes committed by juveniles against people are first and second degree felony sex offense." The recidivism rate of juveniles who receive treatment is about 13 percent; the rate for adult sex offenders who receive treatment in "secure facilities" is between 50 and 75 percent.8

In a surprise move in the closing moments of the 1995 legislative season, Utah’s legislature revoked mandatory sentences for convicted child abusers. Warren S. Parkin, in a letter to the editor, sharply criticized "Gov. Mike Leavitt and the manly imbeciles who ‘represent’ Utah in the Righteouslature" for "their belief that confession rehabilitates the soul. . . . It is shameful that with all the political posturing about ‘family values’ and self-serving talk about getting tough on crime, Utah would decide to advertise itself as a haven for sexual offenders."9 This decision seems particularly ironic in light of legislation submitted to Congress in May 1996 to provide nation-wide mandatory sentencing for child abuse.

Utah’s Division of Family Services has been repeatedly cited for unprofessional practices, including returning children at risk to abusive homes; it lost a major lawsuit in 1993 to the National Center for Youth Law, which was representing children in the system. In the spring of 1996, it was charged with waiting three weeks to act after a teacher reported that a six-year-old child’s father was molesting her and burning her with cigarettes. It is still answering questions about double sets of records, unconventional practices, and audits that severely criticize its policies including the report of a monitoring panel that found it out of compliance with the legal agreement reached in 1994. Meanwhile, the legislature, in 1995, eliminated a grievance council on which the National Center would be represented, and the attorney general has hired outside counsel with a maximum price tag of $350,000 to represent Utah in a reopening of the case. An editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune lamented, "Beneath the piles of statistics and audits are suffering children.. . . It is [their] cry that the adults, all of them, must hear."’10


An unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question is the degree to which Utah’s Mormon culture and the overwhelmingly Mormon majority of lawmakers impact public policy in the area of family functioning and child abuse. In at least one documentable instance in which the Church was invited to have representation in such issues, the person selected seems not to have been well chosen as a child advocate, whatever his other abilities. Governor Norman Bangerter responded to double-digit leaps in reported cases of child sexual abuse by appointing a blue-ribbon committee in 1992 to report on the problem and suggest possible action for the Utah legislature. To represent a broad spectrum of community interests, the governor’s office asked for a representative from the LDS Church. B. Lloyd Poelman, then a named partner in the law firm of Kirton, McConkie and Poelman that represents the Church in many legal cases, was appointed. Ronald E. Poelman, Lloyd’s brother, is a General Authority, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, which is ranked second to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Nicholas G. Smith, who attended meetings of the task force over the next several months, stated: "Poelman always seemed to have his own agenda. He definitely was not an advocate for abused children. Rather, he manifested particular solicitude for the interests of large organizations whose agents might be perpetrating against children."11

More serious questions about Poelman’s commitment to the moral protection of children surfaced two years later. On 2 August 1994, the Salt Lake Tribune’s police column reported:

Salt Lake City attorney Bryan Lloyd Poelman pleaded guilty Monday to patronizing a prostitute, a class C misdemeanor. Poelman, 60, is an LDS stake president [Monument Park North Stake in Salt Lake City] and a partner in the law firm of Kirton, McConkie, & Poelman. He was arrested at 12:30 PM [actually AM] on July 16 at 2100 S. State. An undercover officer saw Poelman pick up a woman who appeared to be a prostitute, according to a police report When Poelman’s car stopped, the officer sneaked up and observed Poelman and the woman engaging in oral sex.12

The prostitute, who was paid $30 for her services, was jailed while Poelman, who had at first tried to deny to the police officer that he had purchased sex, was released to return home. Kevin Watkins, city attorney for South Salt Lake, read the deputy sheriffs citation and report on the Poelman case. Poelman was Watkins’s stake president. He had heard nothing about the incident either in the stake or among legal circles, suggesting that Poelman had not confessed or reported, as was his ethical and moral obligation. After struggling with his own ethical dilemma for two days, Watkins called the Regional Representative, Poelman’s immediate ecclesiastical superior, and filed a formal complaint with the Utah Bar Association.13

At a special conference of Monument Park North Stake on 14 August, Lloyd Poelman was released. He bore his testimony, hoped that "anyone I have offended will forgive me," and commented that "my family has had struggles. These have been too public." Elder Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, presided over the conference, cautioned members of the stake not to talk about the stake’s "family" matters, and assured the stake members, "I felt relieved about President and Sister Poelman. Whatever else will take place, there will be no eternal consequences. Elder John E. Fowler, area president and member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, stated that he had "explicit trust" in Elder Packer and testified that "that which has occurred in this reorganization is precisely what the Lord would have done if he were here. "14 Poelman was excommunicated later that day. Although his name has been removed as a partner in the law firm (now Kirton & McConkie), he is still employed in this firm which still transacts much of the Church’s legal business.

On 31 August 1994, Poelman withdrew his guilty plea to patronizing a prostitute "in an apparent attempt to avoid a criminal record," Before the scheduled trial on 5 December, he "avoided news-media attention by quietly pleading guilty to the class B misdemeanor charge [of patronizing a prostitute]" some time in October 1994. He was fined $750, ordered to complete a counseling program, provide 20 hours of free legal work to the community, and ordered to undergo an AIDS test. In exchange for Poelman’s pleas of guilty as charged, the plea will be held in abeyance for one year. If he has no similar violations within that time, "the charge will be dismissed." An investigation by the Utah State Bar "is still in the informal stages," according to assistant disciplinary counsel Alan Barber.15 No information has been publicly available since that time.

Poelman chaired "the now-defunct Citizens for Positive Community Values," a group begun about ten years ago "with pornography as a major issue." The news report did not say when the group became defunct. According to former member Darlene Hutchison, Poelman "‘had to habitually view videos to make decisions. It probably led to his downfall."’ She suggested that "sexual addiction is a real risk of viewing such material and she likened Poelman to ‘a general killed in the field. ... Sometimes those leading the fight fall victim. He may have saved others from the same fate."’ Poelman was also the cochairman of the Statewide Task Force on Child Sexual Abuse, until it was dissolved two years ago.16 One might reasonably entertain some question about whether children benefit from Poelman as a spokesman for LDS family values in such settings.

Notes for Chapter 1: (Click the Back Button to return to the note reference.)

1 Gordon B. Hinckley, "To Please Our Heavenly Father," Ensign, May 1983, 50.

2 Dallin H. Oaks, "‘Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother,"’ Ensign, May 1991, 14-17.

3 Thomas S. Monson, "Precious Children—A Gift from God," Ensign November 1991, 69.

4 Richard G. Scott, "Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse," Ensign, May 1992, 31-33.

5 Marion Burrows Smith, Letter to Lavina Fielding Anderson, 5 December 1994.

6 Gordon B. Hinckley, "Save the Children," Ensign, November 1994, 53-54.

7 "The Linkup: Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse," (introductory brochure and membership form), nd., n.p.

8 Nancy Hobbs, "Kids and Sex: A Formula for Abuse," Salt Lake Tribune, 9 Jan. 1995, D-1, D-5.

9 Warren S. Parkin, "Haven for Molesters," Salt Lake Tribune, 31 March 1995, A-20.

10 "The Cry of a Child" (editorial), Salt Lake Tribune, 23 April 1996, A-10; Samuel A. Autman, "Judge Issues Gag Order in DFS, Child-Molestation Case," Salt Lake Tribune, 6 April 1996, B-5.

11 Nicholas C. Smith, Typed statement for Lavina Fielding Anderson, 13 September 1995.

12 "For the Record: Lawyer Guilty in Sex Case," Salt Lake Tribune, 2 August 1994, C-4.

13 Mike Carter, "Lawyer Has Sleepless Nights over Solicitation Arrest of Friend, LDS Leader," Salt Lake Tribune, D-1, D-2.

14 Drafted from handwritten notes made by Paul and Margaret Toscano, who attended the meeting; typed on August 28, 1994.

15 "For the Record: Sex Plea Withdrawn," Salt Lake Tribune, 31 August 1994, B4; Stephen Hunt, "Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Prostitution Case," Salt Lake Tribune, 3 December 1994, B-3.

16 Stephen Hunt, "Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Prostitution Case," Salt Lake Tribune, 3 December 1994, B-3.