Chapter 13
Home Up

VOLUME 1, 1995



At this point, in the late fall of 1993, the stories of the three families flow together. It is important to remember that the Haleses, the McCallisters, and the Plourdes have their own versions of what happened, their own interpretations, and their own meanings, within their own families and among each other. They do not all agree on what action should have been taken. They do not always approve of each others’ actions, each others’ parenting styles, or each others’ resolutions of difficulties. The strength that let them think for themselves in the face of official disapproval still keeps them independent thinkers. They respect each others’ boundaries and are careful not to speak for each other. But they are all united in one passionate belief: the current policies and practices of the Mormon Church are placing children unnecessarily at risk of sexual abuse. Although Mormonism has no monopoly on the problem, it has no monopoly on the solutions, either.

After Mary read the court records, she visited the Haleses in Abilene and contacted Brad Edwards, an investigative reporter for KFOR (Channel 4) news in Oklahoma City. "We were really aware of our limitations," says Jack. "We didn’t know how to conduct an investigation and we didn’t know how to evaluate the information that we found. We asked for his professional help to investigate the information and his opinion of the facts as he determined them."

The topic of ecclesiastical abuse interested Brad Edwards; furthermore, unlike many, he did not shy away from the risky topic of Satanic ritual abuse. He began conducting an extensive series of interviews for what would become a five-part series. Contacting the media—Merradyth and Jack also talked to a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman and the local press as well—was probably the point of no return in their deteriorating relationship with Leon Fulton and other ecclesiastical officers.

Fulton had a difficult set of questions to answer. Was Scott telling the truth? Fulton’s counselor said he did, and Fulton himself told both Scott and his parents that he believed him. But Powell apparently denied Scott’s story or at least gave Fulton a noncorroborative version. Could Scott prove that Powell had embraced him, tried to French-kiss him, and given him nude massages? Probably not, since there were no witnesses; it was his word against Powell’s. Powell was Fulton’s associate in the stake presidency due to his calling as stake executive secretary; could Fulton trust Powell’s assertion that "nothing happened"? Should Fulton pursue an aggressive investigation among other teenage boys Powell had had access to? If he did, would Powell, an attorney, sue him and the Church? How did Fulton’s ecclesiastical superiors want the case handled? What course was likely to bring the most embarrassment to the Church and, hence, bring the most disfavor on himself? Jack was claiming to have been sexually abused by one of the region’s pioneer bishops, now dead; was he lying? Jack had been in and out of therapy. The McCallister children had been in trouble. The family’s finances had gone through a disastrous period. Who would be the more credible witness—a well-dressed and competent attorney with a stable family or a young man in his early twenties with a troubled past? It is not impossible that someone, motivated by malice or vengeance, could make a false accusation. Furthermore, juries have awarded large damages to clients and families when they have been persuaded that false memories have been implanted in a client’s mind by an incompetent or unethical therapist.

Fulton chose to handle the situation with the utmost caution. From his perspective, he was no doubt behaving responsibly. From the McCallisters’ perspective, he was shielding a perpetrator—perhaps more than one, protecting the image of the Church at the expense of the Church’s children, and invalidating the victims by marginalizing them. Perhaps private reassurances and pastoral counseling would have consoled the McCallisters; but Fulton’s pattern of relating angrily and authoritatively, plus incidents like the bad feelings over girls’ camp, meant that there was no reservoir of good feelings left. As a result, no action was taken to reverse the high tide of mistrust and ill-will that was sweeping the participants along.

Consequently, when new evidence came to light contaminating Powell’s credibility (below), the stake president still opted for damage control. The McCallisters still received no apology, no support, and no validation. They had always worked with children and youth in their ward and knew how many were troubled—some severely. They knew the grim statistics that attributed dozens and even hundreds of victims to each perpetrator. Faced with a stony public silence that did nothing to warn the parents of other youth, the McCallisters, now convinced that ritual Satanism was also involved, redoubled their efforts to bring the light of public scrutiny on Stan Powell and the people they thought were associated with him. Their public speaking made them increasingly intolerable to Leon Fulton. By the end of August 1994, Merradyth and Mary had both been excommunicated and Jack had resigned his membership, a resignation Leon Fulton did not hesitate to process.

In November 1993, while the McCallisters were going through as much of the story with Gerald Putnam and Albert Webster as those two investigators were willing to hear, Mary checked with the Haleses in person, to follow up on the numerous phone calls between Roseanne, Maxine, and Merradyth that had already established the outline of the case. At Thanksgiving 1993, the Plourdes went to Abilene for the holiday, and she talked to Roseanne and Maxine.

They said the children were so scared of anybody outside the family that it was better not to see them. We talked to Roseanne and Maxine and they confirmed in detail what the court records said. Roseanne was starting to remember more things at that point, as her life got calmer. I knew her. I knew Willard and Maxine. They had no reason to make up stories or bear false witness. The divorce was over. They had every reason to crawl in a hole and be quiet for the rest of their lives and hope for peace. But they felt it was important to tell the truth.

I went back and marched into Leon Fulton’s office. I said, "These people have been victimized. These little children are suffering. What are you going to do? How are you going to walk away from this?" I was talking one on one and toe-to-toe, but he just brushed me off. He said there was "no connection between Scott’s case and Roseanne’s case," that Powell "just had some inner conflicts."

I showed Fulton the court record and said, "These children name Bishop Powell. He’s either taking nude pictures of the abuse or doing the abuse, it’s immaterial which. I want something done. He’s driving around in a muscle sports car wearing fancy clothes and fancy jewelry and getting all the kids’ attention. And professionally he’s providing legal services for indigent youth in Kingfisher County? What else is he providing for them?"

I was angry. I gave photocopies of the court transcript to my current visiting teachers and a former visiting teacher. I had a message for them: "You’re part of protecting the children in the Silver Ward or you’re part of the cover up."

In retrospect, she wishes she had "bombarded everyone with paper." Instead "I talked with everyone I met, thinking they would believe me if I could just explain what was happening."

Scott was not holding up well under the strain. Former friends told him, "Your whole family is weird." Girls from the ward refused to date him. One engagement ended because of parental pressure. He felt that President Fulton thought he was lying. This perception made him angry and depressed, the same vicious combination that had torn Jack apart. Scott had been called as mission leader for the singles ward that he was attending but felt "torn between the need to convert and the need to warn. He lapsed back into teenage-style drinking to numb the pain. Alert to this danger signal, the McCallisters took him to Richard Sternlof, the therapist who had been the decisive witness for Roseanne. After a number of sessions in late 1993 and early 1994, Scott joined the family in a group therapy program.

Dr. Sternlof wrote a formal report that effectively refuted claims that Scott was making up the abuse. He described Scott’s symptoms as "some anxiety and depression related to the fact that he had remembered some childhood sexual abuse visited on him by a non-family member. He also was somewhat depressed following his year [sic] of missionary service in England, which had been a highlight of his life and at which he had been very successful. He also had begun to drink alcohol in excess and this was a concern of his family."

He described Scott as "very cooperative in the evaluation and treatment process. In two months, he "became less depressed and anxious. He began to become involved in his work and reported that he had cut down on his drinking." Dr. Sternlof added that Scott "does not appear to have a significant debilitating psychological problem and does not have any problem wherein he would falsify information in regard to things that have happened to him in the past. He does not confuse reality with fantasy and is fully oriented in all spheres. His memory appears to be intact for both recent and remote events. There is nothing to suggest any kind of psychotic process going on with him."1

On 12 December 1993, Jack and Merradyth drafted a letter to Leon Fulton that they did not send, explaining that they were refusing to sustain him as stake president and Stan Powell as stake executive secretary—Powell for his sexual abuse of Scott and Fulton for not taking action to protect other youth. They had already voted once not to sustain him, in September, but stake conference was coming up in January 1994.

In early January, the McCallisters received a copy of Glenn L Pace’s memo to the Strengthening Church Members Committee documenting his interviews with sixty victims of ritualistic abuse. (See Chapter 6.) The possibility of ritual abuse stunned and terrified the McCallisters. When Merradyth read Bishop Pace’s memo to Scott, he "freaked out." Here was confirmation from a General Authority that ritual abuse was occurring and that it involved Mormons as both victims and as perpetrators. Their concern intensified. Why was the memo being kept secret? Why weren’t parents being warned so they could protect their children?

On 22-23 January 1994 was the stake conference. Jack and Merradyth and other family members attended the Sunday morning session. The opening song, tellingly, was "Choose the Right," and Merradyth, who had been "praying hard" for guidance, felt that "it was a direct message to me.

Merradyth was holding their three-year-old, Shay, and Jack feels that she is an important part of the story. Because of her Down’s syndrome, Shay had been plagued by various health problems during her first two years. Jack and Merradyth always brought her to the group of ten- and eleven-year-olds they team taught in Sunday School; and Jack had once taught a lesson on what heaven was like by having each youngster hold Shay, look into her eyes, and concentrate on what they were feeling. Some of the children got tears in their eyes as they held Shay. No one could describe what they felt, but they all knew it was something unusual.

In conference that morning, Jack struggled with feelings of unreality. The audience of soberly clad, reverent families in their Sunday best and good manners had the appearance of reality. So did the solid row of suited men on the stand. He felt a return of his teenage confusion when he split his life between the happy, active "day" teenager who everyone thought he was and the tortured "night" teenager who submitted in helpless despair to his bishop’s fondling in the darkness of his own bedroom. He had survived by splitting himself in two, but the cost had been a kind of insanity. What was real? Jack sat there, "doubting my own memories and feelings of what I knew about my own sexual abuse."

As the conducting officer began to read the list of names for the sustaining vote, Merradyth didn’t know what Jack was going to do, but she knew that she had chosen and she was going to vote no. She handed Shay to Jack so she could stand up easily. As Jack took Shay in his arms, his confusion instantly vanished.

Suddenly, I knew that this innocent defenseless child was reality. Every brick in that building and every suit on every bench was just a prop to create a wholesome setting. But protecting Shay and all other children was reality. Nothing else mattered.

I heard the familiar phrase, "All opposed so manifest it." I felt like a tree that had been bent over in a blast of wind, but now the wind had stopped and the tree could spring back. I found myself rising to my feet with Shay in my left arm and Merradyth at my side, both of us raising our right arms to the square as witnesses for a child’s right to be safe.

In the cultural hall, Mary and Nelson Plourde also voted no. Other supporters watched but did not vote yes or no. Gasps and whispers of "I’ve never seen a no-vote before" ran around the congregation. Arnie Clinton, who was conducting the meeting, announced that those opposed should meet in the stake president’s office after the meeting and continued with his talk. Visibly unnerved, he kept losing his train of thought as he delivered his address.

Leon Fulton, speaking during the main session, compared Jack and Merradyth, without naming them, to women’s rights activists who were trying to force the Church to give them equal rights and ordination to the priesthood. The comparison deeply offended traditionalist Merradyth.

Again there was a confrontive and intimidating meeting between about ten supporters and the stake presidency. President Fulton was not loud and bullying at this meeting. Instead, he took the approach that "there’s no real evidence. Let the Lord handle it."

"But every time someone left the room," noticed Jack, "he’d find a way to invalidate them, to explain that they were having ‘problems’ that meant we shouldn’t pay attention to them. He listened to what people said with his eyes cast down. It was like talking to the wall." As Jack saw it, Fulton also leaned on the people that he felt were most susceptible to threats. Two of the women in the meeting, who had knowledge of sexual abuse in their own families, finally agreed with him to "let the Lord handle this."

Merradyth asked if they’d read the transcripts about the abuse to Roseanne s children. Fulton said he had. Merradyth was incredulous. If he’d actually read them, he’d be taking the matter more seriously. A little later in the meeting, she asked point-blank, "Did you really read them?" He hedged, "Well, no. I read a few pages and passed them on. My leaders told me what was in it."

Arnie Clinton offered a convoluted explanation about why they hadn’t: "We can’t read those because then we’d become as upset and obsessed with this problem as y’all are. We’d lose our objectivity. Our leaders have already investigated; their position is that there is no problem, and I don’t want to obsess over the issue like the McCallisters, the Haleses, and others have done." Someone asked, "Do you think your boys would be safe in the same tent with Powell on a campout?" He answered, "Yes." So did Calvin C. Fleming, the second counselor in the stake presidency.

Mary snapped to Leon Fulton, "You’re a geologist. Maybe you should just get some rocks. But we’re dealing with children and with adults molesting children. Maybe this is the wrong thing to be objective about."

Fulton dismissed Roseanne’s evidence: "You have to understand that Roseanne was a crazy woman and that Merradyth is... well, you know...." Mary knew that she was close to having the same label applied to her, as he continued, "This whole problem is stemming from one source—a bitter divorce."

Mary insisted: "If that was happening to my children I guarantee that a bitter divorce would ensue, but let’s get the horse in front of the cart. What caused what? There are some victims in Texas that need to be taken care of."

Mary was particularly shocked when President Fulton insisted, "‘What happens in Cleveland County has no bearing on what happens in Canadian County.’ He kept saying, ‘We need more evidence–not just contrived evidence or something that can be explained by false memory syndrome or heretics punishing the innocent.’ I literally did not know how he could twist things that way."

Leon Fulton’s suggestion that Scott was suffering from false memory syndrome thoroughly outraged the McCallisters and partly prompted the evaluation that they asked Sternlof for on Scott. Fulton also told the McCallisters that they were the only family in the 2000-plus membership of his stake that had a problem with sexual abuse issues. He attributed their "obsession" to either genetic factors or "the home environment." He threatened those present with a lawsuit from other members who were "angry" about having their names connected with the accusations that they had committed sexual abuse. "Scott’s just fine," he announced. "He hasn’t been harmed by anything that might have happened when he was a teenager. He’s going on with his life, and I advise you to do the same.

Only a few weeks later, another side of the "crucified" and "innocent" Powell was revealed. In February 1994, the McCallisters learned that on Thursday evening, 2 December 1993, about 7:30 PM, Stanley Dennis Powell of Yukon, Oklahoma, was arrested at the University of Oklahoma’s Memorial Union by John Bishop, a campus police officer, assigned to undercover detail in the men’s room. According to Bishop’s report, the offense was "felony indecent exposure." The officer’s laconic report reads:

While I was assigned to an undercover detail in the men’s rest rooms at OMU, the arrestee made brief contact with me while seated in a toilet stall. Arrestee followed me out of the restroom on the lower level to the restroom on the second floor. Arrestee attempted to gain my attention and made eye contact with me thru a "peephole" in the stall wall. Arrestee followed me to the lower level rest room. Arrestee gained my attention, exposed himself thru a peep [hole] and began to manipulate his genitals up and down. I moved to the urinals in front of arrestee’s stall. Arrestee moved his body to the left and exposed himself.

Powell was released on bond and waived his right to a jury trial; if guilty, he would face up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Eventually, months later, he plea-bargained the offense to a misdemeanor, paid a thousand-dollar fine (he had reported his income as $24,000 a year on the charge sheet), was assigned some community service, and was placed on probation for three years.

Jack was stunned by this police report. Scott’s disclosures to President Fulton had come only three months earlier in September 1993; Powell knew that questions had been raised about his morality. Surely even so mild a measure of scrutiny meant that he would be cautious? Instead, he had come on to a total stranger in a public setting. "Either he had no concern about getting caught or, if he got caught, he was sure he could get away with it," Jack felt. Ironically, the undercover police officer resembled Scott—slim, blond, and youthful-looking.

The McCallisters dug deeper. According to the Oklahoma City Police Department, Stanley Dennis Powell, born in November 1947 in Florida, was arrested on 16 July 1980 for "indecent exposure" but was "released, exonerated." He would then have been thirty-two—five years before Scott became his target. A friend called from another area of Oklahoma where Powell had lived a decade earlier; he had heard that Powell had been arrested for indecent exposure and soliciting sex in 1980, but added that he had also heard rumors of an alleged disfellowshipment for homosexual activities. The McCallisters were unable to find information to either confirm or deny these reports. They took the reports to the stake presidency, who accepted them, but only with tight-lipped reluctance, the McCallisters felt.

When Jack told his extended family about his own abuse, their reactions were mixed. Angela, his only sibling, was battling her own psychological problems. His mother immediately said, "You’ll just have to forget it and get on with your life. I’m still friends with Bernice Mercer. We write every month." Jack confesses: "I lost it. I said, ‘What about me? Is this what you would have told me thirty years ago?"’ But his father arranged to meet Jack in a park and said, "If this will help at all, I want to show you some medical records."

Jack looked at them. In 1962, his father, a short, slightly built man, had suffered a back injury carrying a hide-a-bed at James A. Cullimore’s furniture store in Oklahoma City and had had to take time off work. He was ashamed of not working and became depressed. "It was like not having a dad for a couple of years," recalls Jack, who was in his late teens at the time. "He got real spacey, spent a lot of time staring at the wall."

Jack looked up from the records and asked, "Why are you showing me this?"

J.C. then admitted, "I could never tell anybody the real reason I was so depressed. It was Bishop Mercer."

Jack had been aware of and uncomfortable with how Bishop Mercer, under the guise of good-humored teasing, would physically harass his father, playing cat and mouse games, acting like he was going to tickle him, or grabbing him hard on the knee, saying, "I’m gonna get you." His father would tell stories about how Mercer would chase him through the furniture, always playfully, always jokingly but with a sinister and humiliating undertone. Jack continued what he learned from his father:

One morning, he caught Dad between two big rolls of carpet where they were out of sight. Dad was trying to climb over the carpet roll, but Bishop Mercer, who was a big man, reached from behind and grabbed his genitals.

Dad said, "Better let go. You don’t know what you’ve got hold of."

"I do too," said Mercer.

Dad realized that Mercer wasn’t playing. He just froze, it was so totally unexpected, then he said again, "You better let go."

Bishop Mercer said, "When I get ready," then let him go and laughed it off. Dad was embarrassed but pretended to treat it as a joke until it happened a second time. Then the back injury occurred, a "respectable" excuse to be away from work, but it also left him with free time to face the situation.

Dad didn’t have a clue about what to do. "Do you see why I could never tell anybody this?" he asked me. "We joined the Mormon Church because of this wholesome family image, and the bishop is a queer. I didn’t know what to do."

The medical record showed that he eventually had electroshock treatments for depression, that’s how bad it got.

My first reaction was weird. "Are you telling me the truth?" I asked. I thought he might have made it up to make me feel better.

He looked hard at me and said, "I believed you when you came out with this stuff. You’d better, by God, believe me."

Jack realized that he had treated his father exactly as he felt the stake officers were treating Scott. "I believe you, Dad," he said.

His father said, "Keep the records. Use this information any way you can to make the full scope of the abuse known."

Mary "felt an urgency to alert the parents in the ward who had children my sons age; but as my kids used to joke, ‘Denial ain’t just a river that runs through Egypt, Mom!"’ One woman told her, "I don’t appreciate hearing this like this." Mary was puzzled. "What do you mean—like this?" "From a member," returned the other. Mary wondered, "What does the source matter? Do you hear me say that there’s a pedophile in our ward?" Another mother brushed her off: "Sorry, I just can’t believe that. It’s too bizarre." Mary was frustrated: "I don’t have any axe to grind. My only issue is protecting the children."

During January and February 1994, the McCallisters and a group of supporters met to talk about their sexual abuse experiences. Scott and Jack answered questions. Police officers from the local police force also addressed the meetings, and a detective from the Edmond Police Department confirmed that ritual abuse was a serious and little-understood problem. "Those who come forward with information are in very real danger," he warned. He advised them not to attend church. "You don’t know who you can trust. You don’t know what will trigger your own vulnerability. Once you go public on this, sitting in the middle of a coven is not a safe place to be." That was one of the reasons why the McCallisters and the Plourdes stopped attending church.

But more compelling reasons were the uncertainty the McCallisters felt about their ability to protect their children from potential abusers and the need to reclaim their spiritual lives. "We’d spent so many years trying to be good Mormons," they said, "and that meant feeling ashamed and guilty about so much of our lives, feeling an obsessive need to win the approval of our leaders. We didn’t want that to become our priority again." It was difficult, as well, to have much of a religious life in a setting where they were actively ostracized by many ward members and feared as contaminants by still others. Their children also were suffering from the social repercussions.

The McCallisters consulted Dr. Jay Memmott, a professor in psychotherapy at the Oklahoma University who had studied ritual abuse. He confirmed that ritual abuse really existed, that the level of denial was high, and that the effects on victims and their families were devastating.

Feeling himself unraveling from the intense emotional pressure, Scott moved to Mesa, Arizona, in early 1994 where he worked and went to school. His parents agreed that it was a good decision. "He needed to put some space between himself and the pressure," Merradyth said. It was tearing him apart to deal with the conflict between his parents and Church leaders, he felt hopeless about any future resolution, and he was emotionally shredded from his own anger at not being believed.

But they were very concerned. He had frequent interviews with the bishop of his singles ward, a former FBI agent, who repeatedly gave him the same three messages:

"Nothing can be done. Get your own life in order. Forget the past and get on with your life." This was what Jack had tried to do-and for twenty-five years, it didn’t work." It was what Jack’s father had tried to do too. It hadn’t worked for him either.

During this time period, ward members and stake members were sometimes supportive, often confused, and nearly always frightened. One friend told a stake officer, "I believe Scott. I don’t think I can sustain the stake presidency." The official shook his finger at her and raised his voice. "You’re in danger of losing your temple recommend and your membership!" he warned. In another family, someone had also been sexually abused by a priesthood leader; they believed Scott and Jack but felt that they were forced to make a choice between speaking out and their church membership. They retreated into silence. A third friend, whose child had been sexually abused by a non-Mormon, continued to make phone calls and pass out literature, asking the women she gave it to to pray about it. She was put on probation and her temple recommend was confiscated. A fourth was released from her calling as a Sunday School teacher for teenagers that same day, "by order of the stake president—immediately."

When one friend and supporter urged Merradyth to "back off’ and let the Lord take care of things in his own time instead of trying to "force the Lord’s timetable," Merradyth accepted the love and concern in the message but testified: "I want you to know that I haven’t done anything that I haven’t been directed to do and I’ve asked over and over again to be stopped if I’m doing anything wrong. Every day the answer has been: ‘Get it out. Go to the press. Your life depends on it. The lives of others depend on it."’

Another friend told Merradyth, "I know you mean well, but you’ve become overzealous. You’ve gone out of the system." Merradyth, without heat but with emphasis answered, "It’s real obvious to me that we’re all God’s children. Little children have just as much right to know and be warned and protected as leaders. If a system treats the children as expendable, then it’s wrong. Keeping these secrets is sick. If I used to believe that leaders are more important than children, then I was wrong.

It was very affirming to Jack when one of his boyhood friends, currently living in another stake, saw a TV news clip in which Jack described his abuse by his bishop, thought, "That’s got to be Bishop Mercer" and telephoned Jack. He told Jack that Mercer had run a hand up the inside of his leg when he was nineteen, but the boy decisively rejected this advance. Mercer backed off; and because the fellow’s father was not a member, Mercer was not welcome in his parents’ home. After the fellow returned from his mission, Mercer "came to my grandmother’s house. He sat down right next to me and started rubbing my leg. He sweated a lot and was always wearing this stinky cologne. I just said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got things to do’ and got up and left."

Jack and Merradyth were checking privately with other parents in the ward and passing out copies of Bishop Powell’s police record, complete with his mug shot. They estimate that Powell may have had access to as many as fifty youngsters over a four- or five-year period. One of Scott’s best friends, also a recently returned missionary, told Jack and Merradyth that Powell had never come on to him overtly but that his behavior around Scott was quite overt and that he knew how uncomfortable Scott was with Powell’s attention to him. They heard indirectly that a second young man Scott’s age had gone to his current bishop after Scott went public and had told him that it was "the same pattern." Then, called to his father’s sickbed, the young man found Stan Powell there, who took him away for a two-hour conversation. Thereafter, the young man refused to say anything. Jack and Merradyth have not been able to check out these rumors directly from the young men involved. "We contacted everybody we could find," said Merradyth. "Some parents said, ‘Stay away from our son,’ even though the boys were over eighteen at this point. Recently one of these young men told Scott that he had been abused by Powell but swore him to secrecy.

On 13 February 1994, high councilor Melvin Knott, speaking in Silver Ward, said, according to Mary’s notes, "Those who do not sustain our stake presidency are on the high road to apostasy. Sustain your leaders. They are called of God. They can do no wrong. You only tell your leaders if you know something first hand. Do not talk about it." He denounced "out-of-control members who are apostatizing. Members can’t criticize, talk or murmur against their leaders." High council speakers in another ward delivered the same message, so perhaps it was the message in every ward on high council Sunday. In neither meeting was there a mention of appropriate steps to take to prevent child molestation or to help children who had been molested.

Merradyth had never been able to imagine a life that was not centered in the Church, but now she was struggling to deal with a nightmare in which everything that looked good turned out to have a hideous face. She had been active in the Church for her entire life, earned every Primary and YWMIA award, attended seminary for four years, served as a youth missionary leader, as gospel doctrine teacher, as spiritual living teacher in the Relief Society, and as Primary president, teacher, chorister, and nursery leader many times. She had cheerfully given countless hours of service. The Church was her life, the source of stability in her family of origin, and the framework in which she and Jack lived, worked, and raised their children. Jack’s betrayal, then Scott’s, not only hurt her desperately because her loved ones were suffering, but also confused and disoriented her. She did not recognize the world she was living in.

My family saw me becoming agitated and exhausted. I thought I was fine—being able to read and talk about unspeakable acts performed on children and adults, especially my own children—and still feeling strong. I felt as if I was moving in slow motion, but everyone else said they saw me racing, obsessing, unable to talk about anything else. I was dissociating, too, feeling split away from my own body and responding with inappropriate emotions—laughing when I should have cried. My children and husband needed me, but I was obsessed with finding the "final piece" of evidence that would make the leaders believe us. Then they’d take care of the problem and I could rest. I didn’t realize it, but I was neglecting my children. The ordeal lasted for months, and I’m sure my family is still suffering from my lack of being there for them. I alienated friends at Church by being unable to talk about anything else.

She entered therapy to deal with the stress of their situation, feeling dubious. "What could I say to a therapist for fifty minutes? I didn’t have any issues. I knew that if you read the scriptures, pray every day, and keep the commandments, you don’t need therapy. Was I surprised!" Ironically, the turmoil increased but she now could deal with it better because a meaning was starting to emerge. Out of the nightmares, intrusive flashbacks, and "crazy" thoughts came a pattern, a pattern that, unexpectedly, "helped me through the terror of the excommunication."

The process, begun with twice-weekly therapy sessions in early 1994, has lasted two years but now Merradyth understands. Her father, Heber James Trunnell, had begun sodomizing her and forcing her to perform oral sex at age three. It lasted until she was seventeen. He had never raped her vaginally, as though her technical virginity somehow meant that everything else didn’t matter. With the help of her therapist, Merradyth began to work through her fear, shame, and rage. She began calling some of her sixteen brothers and sisters and talking to her aunts and uncles. Some of them were shocked and scolded her. Others told her stories that helped her understand.

Her parents’ marriage of thirty-five years had always been dysfunctional, but the facade of Church activity and outward orthodoxy had held things together. Heber Trunnell was preoccupied with the doctrine of polygamy and would fantasize about it openly. Then, he began to have one affair after another, sometimes not returning home for days or even weeks.

Finally; Merradyth’s mother divorced him, and he was excommunicated in the early 1980s. Family members and Church leaders promptly labeled him "apostate" and "crazy," and no one in the family had much to do with him until a niece in Salt Lake City who had had her name removed from the Church records found him homeless and begging for food and made arrangements for him to receive county services. He was diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder. With therapy and medication, he became functional again and married a Jewish woman who had survived the holocaust. Wryly, Merradyth points out, "Fortunately she has never been a Mormon, so her compassion wasn’t hampered by considerations of whether he was ‘worthy’ to receive love."

Merradyth’s disclosure of the abuse was the beginning of revelations of generations of family secrets. Heber Trunnell had been raised in a physically abusive family and raped as a child by other boys in his Salt Lake City neighborhood. His only sister, Norma, was institutionalized in her middle years for manic depression, schizophrenia, violent rages, and verbal outbursts of scatological and sexual perversity. She died at a county mental hospital in Utah. One of Merradyth’s nine sisters remembers Aunt Norma screaming at Heber when he was pawing and groping his teenage daughters under the guise of tickling them, "Heber, don’t you know that’s incest! Stop it right now!" He looked shocked and said, "Don’t you remember? This is what we always did at home and in the old neighborhood." He never stopped.

Most of Merradyth’s sisters have shared incestuous memories like hers. So have many granddaughters. Many of them suffer from eating disorders, short-term memory loss, sleeping disorders, nightmares, excessive startle responses, and a number of problems with sexual and emotional intimacy that have plagued their marriages.

Merradyth’s mother denies the abuse; but Merradyth wonders about her own history. She had "a nervous breakdown" at age twelve, and family photographs of her at earlier ages show her as a physically beautiful child with wide-open, shocked eyes standing numb and rigid.

Merradyth began to understand the dimensions of her nightmare.

I began to see clearly where my terror was coming from. All male authority figures—Jack, my father, Church leaders, and God—frightened me. I expected to be hit. I expected them to hurt me. I was in agony at the thought of facing a disciplinary council that, claiming to be acting in God’s name and out of love for me, could execute my soul. To lose my hope of living with my family for eternity with a loving Heavenly Father made me sick with dread.

After my father had been excommunicated and his life-style deteriorated into emotional and social chaos, Church leaders and ward members had warned: "This is what happens to apostates. They lose the Spirit. They are buffeted by Satan." It seemed that I was careening toward this same abyss, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. In my heart, I knew I was innocent of any wrong-doing. With every ounce of a mother’s energy, I was trying to safeguard my own children and those at church from being sexually abused. I knew it was too late to reverse what had already happened; but I thought if I worked hard enough, it would stop.

I began to understand that my "obsessions" had come, at a conscious level, from the abuse inflicted on my husband and son. But from an unconscious level, my intense energy and unwavering determination to shout out the secrets of sexual abuse came from my own wounded inner child. I felt like a whirlwind. I would not be silent. I would not deny the truth.

1Richard E. Sternlof, Ph.D., letter, "To Whom It May Concern," 5 February 1994.