Chapter 7
Home Up

VOLUME 1, 1995

Chapter 7




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 are:

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 home.""’

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 officials."

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 children?""’5

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 never charged.

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 editor:


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 settlements.

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 bishop.14

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 children."15

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 part:

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 sexual self.

...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 functions.

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 institutions" can

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 God."

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 confessional exception.

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, resources.

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 therapeutic professionals.

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 individuals."19 Unfortunately, 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 Church.

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 record.

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 consequences.

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 intimidation.

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 wounds?

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.


Notes for Chapter 7

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1 "Dioceses 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, Audiotape SL94-273.

3 When 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.

4 Patty 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.

5 Davis, "Sins of the Temple," 22.

6 lbid., 23-24.

7 In 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.

8 Anne 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.

9 Carl M. Edgington, "Abused Again," Salt Lake Tribune, 15 April 1995, A-10.

10 Elizabeth 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, A-1, A-4.

11 Reuter News Service, "Sexual Sins of Irish Clergy Plunge Church into Crisis," Deseret News, 8 July 1995, B-5.

12 "Dioceses Start Extending Rules on Sexual Misconduct," and "Ex-Priest Sentenced as a ‘Sexual Predator,"’ (sidebar), Deseret News, 15-16 November 1994, A-8.

13 John Thompson, "Bishop Weigand Notes Sexual-Misconduct Allegations Against 2," Deseret News, 18 December 1993, B-2.

14 Associated 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.

15 Glen Johnson, "Sexual Scandals Force Background Checks on Clergy," Salt Lake Tribune, 12 Aug. 1995, C-3.

16 Standing 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."

17 "The 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.

18 Associated 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.

20 Ibid.

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.