Chapter 17
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VOLUME 1, 1995






Leon M. Fulton is, as of April 1996, still president of Oklahoma City Park Stake, and Neal Hancock is still bishop of Silver Ward. Stan Powell attends church regularly. According to a friend of the McCallisters’ children, "We miss your kids, but it’s so hard to believe Bishop Powell could have molested Scott. He comes every Sunday and sits with his family and smiles and shakes hands with everybody like he’s always done. He goes to activities and is always helping out. It looks like nothing ever happened. And the ward warmly supports him." Ward members feel that they have had to choose sides, and for most of them the choice was not difficult. The McCallisters do not know if Powell’s excommunication has been lifted. Powell still practices law; since 1993, he has been under contract to provide legal defense for indigents, including juveniles, in Kingfisher County.1 Sylvia teaches a teen Sunday School class.

The stake swallowed another scandal in 1995—this time financial and political—when Patricia Whitehead, gospel doctrine teacher in First Ward and one of Oklahoma’s highest-profiled Mormons because of her position as state deputy treasurer, was convicted on March 1995 of carrying out a two-year kickback scheme with a male co-conspirator ten years her junior. Whitehead, as chief trader in the state treasurer’s office, invested idle funds to earn money for the state and devised a kickback scheme from the one-billion-dollar state investment trades that netted her about $268,000. Loss to the state was estimated at $6.7 million. While her attorneys bargained for a reduced sentence ("she may have engaged in questionable conduct, [but] she is still a person who has year after year earned the respect and admiration of her peers"), the manager of the Oklahoma City bishop’s storehouse for the Mormon Church "offered to supervise Whitehead in public service work. ... Whitehead could pack food orders for the poor, sweep floors, stock shelves, and do other work for the charity," said the manager.2

The blaming of the victims has not stopped, and it sometimes takes ironic forms. Right after Merradyth was excommunicated, a high councilor who had earlier served in clerical and counselor positions at the ward and stake level, told Steve Allen, the McCallisters’ son-in-law, "You should have known about Powell’s being bisexual. Everyone in the stake leadership knew. I thought the McCallisters knew because they were such good friends with Powell." He had never mentioned this "knowledge" before, even though he had been involved on both sides.

Scott married Catie Kennedy on 23 April 1994 in the Mesa Arizona Temple and their first child, Baylor Scott, was born in February 1996. Scott is "burying himself in work," according to Merradyth. "He and his brother-in-law Steve Allen run a successful water-damage carpet-cleaning business. He no longer sees a therapist but will consult with his father when he feels stress. It was very hard on him to have his life on hold for so long when he was explaining what had happened over and over and nothing was being done." He is still active in the Church.

Jack and Merradyth started a new business that they can manage out of their cabin at Cedar Lake, a peaceful retreat for them and the younger children. They stay in close contact with the rest of the family. A comforting dream during the spring of 1995 strengthened Jack.

I dreamed I was talking candidly to a group of men who were trying to understand the unseen damage done to a victim of sexual abuse. I searched their faces to see if anyone showed any recognition of my torment betrayal, and violation. I felt as if a hole the size of a bowling ball had been blown through my soul, and I could feel the wind howl through the cavity, whining with loss, grief, confusion, and anger. Did anyone understand my rage and sadness? Did anyone know what it felt like that my innocence, integrity, and identity were gone forever?

After I finished speaking, about ten men came up and stood casually around me, shaking hands and talking. I was playing my social role with ease, but inwardly I was asking myself if anyone anywhere knew how much it hurt—knew exactly. I looked searchingly into their eyes, responding to each one. The seventh or eighth man, who had been standing quietly, put out his hand without saying a word. For some reason, my eyes dropped to his hand as I reached for it. In his palm was a round, penny-size scar. A flicker of curiosity crossed my mind. As if he could read my thoughts, he rotated his hand as I grasped it so I could see the back. An identical scar, round, slightly indented, and still pink, marked the back.

Then I realized what caused that kind of wound—a nail. Warmth radiated from his hand to mine. He did not say a word, but I felt instant comfort. The only other person who could possibly know how I felt was Jesus Christ. He too had been betrayed in the house of his friends. His mission on earth had been to heal the sick, comfort the distressed, and bless the children. Would he be any different if he came today? Whom would he seek out? Where would he go?

I looked into his face with eager, dawning wonder. His eyes spoke his understanding with quiet compassion. I felt his unconditional love as he gladly took my burden. It instantly became light. He had performed a quiet miracle. He had come because I needed him. The vast emptiness in my soul dosed in a flood of warmth. I wanted to be absorbed in his presence.

That was all. The dream was over. Most of my dreams are stressful, and I don’t want to remember them. This one was different, and my understanding of religion would never be the same. I had grown up thinking that God blessed only the worthy, that I had to prove my worth by constant acts of righteousness, that we had to earn God’s presence by strict qualifications, and that God worked exclusively through a hierarchical patriarchy of priesthood officials. I learned that God, through his son, ministers to whom he chooses, when he chooses, and how he chooses. He is not governed by priesthood protocol. Worthiness is not a prerequisite for his healing care. He hears our silent screams for help. He comes.

Sundays are days for the family to be together and to consciously access their spiritual power to heal themselves and each other. Eleven members of the family are actively pursuing recovery through therapy, reading, tapes, conferences, discussions, and finding opportunities to work through issues of shame, control, guilt, anger, fear, abandonment, body image, forgiveness, and spiritual and sexual issues. But some siblings are openly skeptical. At least one daughter frankly thinks that Merradyth’s memories and those of Amber, fourth of the McCallister children, have no basis in reality. She resents being put in a Catch-22 situation: "According to Mother, if we don’t remember abuse, then we’re in denial. If we do, then we need therapy. Either way, Mother insists that abuse as an issue consumes our lives."

Merradyth and Jack are calm about such divergences. They do not know everything the children experienced and do not try to "suggest" memories to them. "The one thing that’s really clear is that people have to heal on their own schedules," says Merradyth. "They remember when it’s safe to remember. They deal with it when they’re strong enough. We try to let everyone feel accepted on the level they’re at. It’s taken a lot of hard work not to manipulate and control their lives because of our fears."

Merradyth feels an urgency to research her genealogy, finding patterns that suggest multigenerational incest and ritual abuse. She is heartened by corroborating evidence from several members of her extended family who are relieved that she has broken the code of secrecy. "Without hands the stone is rolling down the mountain that is going to smash all false traditions, dysfunctional family secrets, and ugly forms of idol worship that are keeping people from accepting the full atonement of the Savior," she says gently.

In addition to working with their family therapist, Paula Clinton, M.Ed., Jack and Merradyth work hard and consistently between sessions. They have found that Karol Truman’s Feelings Buried Alive Never Die and A Course in Miracles are useful guides among others. Their lifelong love for the scriptures has never been deeper or more meaningful. Movingly, Merradyth talks of the joy of seeing her little children learning to have a direct relationship with a loving, nonjudgmental Savior—to "talk with him and embrace him and give their fear and anger and pain to him. We have seen and felt some great miracles," she said.

Merradyth’s and Jack’s commitment to activism remains strong. They participate in a number of national advocacy organizations for abuse victims3 and, in September 1995, made a ten-minute presentation at the third national conference of "The Linkup," an organization dedicated helping the survivors of clergy abuse4 where they showed a video of Brad Edwards’s investigative series, the excommunications, and their Sunstone presentation. "Clergy abuse isn’t just a Mormon problem," they affirmed.

Mary and Nelson and their children stopped attending church in the spring of 1993 and moved into a different house. "Every time I see someone from the ward," says Mary, "they say, ‘We want you to come back and be rebaptized.’ I say, ‘There’s a small problem. What am I supposed to repent of?’ Bishop Hancock has said, ‘We’d like to have you back.’ And I say, ‘You haven’t cleaned up Silver Ward yet. Call me when you do."’

The excommunication of their mother was very difficult for Mary’s older children. They were very supportive of her but also very angry at the disruption to their lives. "Our foundations were shaken," says Mary. "The Church was everything to us, every day. This tore away our family traditions, shredded even our family schedule, ripped away my children’s friends and their belief structure. They were all angry at being invalidated the way they were. Jay and Justin are doing really well, especially since Jay has had therapy and counseling. He was much angrier than the other children, I think because he saw things coming. He wanted to be heard and we weren’t listening. He expressed a lot of anger at all authorities. Part of it was just normal teenage rebellion, but the lightning strikes at home."

Jay was walking across a parking lot in Piedmont when a teenage acquaintance from school agreed to give him a ride across the lot on his bumper. The driver accelerated, then braked sharply. When Jay fell off, the driver accelerated again, deliberately ran over him, laughed, and then drove off. He was a boy who "said morbid things all the time" and bragged about belonging to "the cult in Piedmont." Jay suffered severe bruises and second and third degree burns from asphalt abrasions, and had to walk on crutches for six weeks but he had no broken bones. The police did not arrest the teenage driver.

When Mary received a visit soon afterwards from a former bishop Melvin Knott and Quentin Adair from the high council, Knott asked, "What did [the driver] mean by cult? Not our ward!" "No," she rejoined sarcastically. "I guess it was another cult." Both men fell silent and stared uncomfortably at the carpet. Mary had said the unspeakable word in his presence.

Mary felt that the lack of legal action was almost predictable. She knew the sheriff from his dealings earlier with Roseanne and felt little respect for him. In a "Town Meeting" sponsored by high school students that included her daughter, someone had asked, "What about when your parents hit you?" He had responded: "As long as it’s only with a fist, we’re not going to say they’re breaking the law."

Daughter Rama has been treated like a "social outcast," confused by "intimidation from ecclesiastical authorities. To have your best friends shun you is not easy to deal with," says Mary. "When you’re a teenager, how do you handle that quick, scalding rejection from those who called you family since before you were born?" She speaks wryly of relationships snapped in her own life: "Everyone chooses sides real quick when you get excommunicated. Your own family may not be all that loyal to you. Fewer and fewer want to talk. They don’t really want to hear. They don’t really want to know. They would rather believe that you made the mistake, because the Church is so big and you’re so little."

But she expresses confidence in the future. "I know that in the gardens of the hereafter, we’re going to look back and see this whole episode as just a speed bump on the road."


In the aftermath of this case, which has left at least three families alienated from the Church—and possibly more, depending on the decisions of the twenty children involved as they marry and establish their own families—what could or should have been done? All of them—the McCallisters, Plourdes, and Haleses, whether lifetime members or converts, were living their whole emotional and family lives within the Church and began this experience with an unquestioning first loyalty to the Church. Despite Jack’s abuse by Bishop Mercer, they trusted the Church leaders to make things right. That betrayal was more shattering than the abuse itself, and it raises the question: once trust between leaders and members is breached, how can it be rebuilt?

No doubt the stake leaders, area presidencies, and General Authorities felt justified in taking a highly cautious and conservative approach on the McCallisters’ and Hales’s testimony, for fear that the accusations might be false. But it is less clear why they were so reluctant to investigate, why the single investigation by Putnam was so passive, and why the stake presidency were so reluctant to share the results with those most affected. It is particularly perplexing that their reluctance and public silence persisted even after Stan Powell’s arrest for masturbating in front of an undercover police officer became known. It is equally mystifying that they did not take the most straightforward steps toward establishing the truth of the McCallisters’ claims—by taking prompt and proactive steps to invite boys in Scott’s peer group and men in Jack’s to share any relevant concerns in an unintimidating environment, and by checking with the bishop and stake president to whom Jack had reported the abuse in great distress as a member of the bishopric during the 1980s.

The McCallisters’ conclusion—that the priesthood leaders thought Scott was lying—does not seem unjustified given the reluctance, the secrecy, and the lack of active ministering to the family’s needs. Jack says: "When we set out to warn parents and children, we hit a series of stonewalls, each fiercely guarded by high priests. We expected a serious investigation. Instead, we witnessed damage control—the use of emotional and spiritual intimidation from every contact with LDS priesthood leadership, without exception."

A vicious circle was created early by the perceived lack of trust. Leaders withdrew into silence and concentrated on image management. Knowledge would make them responsible, so they "protected" themselves from finding out. They projected invulnerability instead of active concern. Perhaps the additional McCallister family issues—the financial stresses, the disruption in the teenage lives of the children (despite such evidence of commitment as Tara’s and Scott’s missions and the temple marriages of Tara, Shanan, and Scott), and Jack’s residual trauma from his own abuse, complicated by his Vietnam experience—frightened away priesthood leaders so that they either would not or could not offer compassionate ministering.

However, it seems clear that the McCallisters would have gratefully welcomed an offer of priesthood blessings for themselves and for the children and an offer of counseling for those who needed it. Their repeated concerns about the safety of the children would have been largely met by a commitment from the stake leadership to provide open training on sexual abuse issues for leaders and members. Apparently one stake leadership training meeting on abuse has been held, but nothing has been made available to the membership in general.

It is also clear how grateful Roseanne was for the initial belief and support of her bishop and her stake president in Abilene. She testifies to the importance of the priesthood blessings she and the children received. Yet her bishop ended up disbelieving her and threatening to discipline members of her family, and she ended up feeling that she would put her children in danger if she continued to attend church.

Unquestionably, the McCallisters, Haleses, and Plourdes held the regional, area, and General Authorities in high esteem and hoped, right up to the brink of the excommunications, that one more effort to explain the situation would bring understanding and effective intervention. These hopes were also dashed.

Jack and Merradyth celebrated their thirtieth wedding anniversary on 7 April 1996. It happened to be Easter Sunday, the closing day of April general conference, and the airing of the fourteen and a half minute segment on the Mormons on CBS’s investigative news show, "60 Minutes." Responding to interviewer Mike Wallace’s question about sexual abuse in the Church and priesthood leaders who sided with the abusers, President Hinckley minimized both problems: "I don’t think there’s any substance to it. Now, there’ll be a blip here, a blip there, a mistake here, a mistake there. But by and large the welfare of women and children is as seriously considered as is the welfare of the men, in this church, if not more so."5 Jack looked up "blip" in the dictionary. It meant: "to technically erase or override recorded sounds." He commented with deep anger: "Those sounds are the heartbreaking moans and muffled screams of the victims, rising to heaven for relief and healing."

The outcome could easily have been different. Compassion and care offered from stake, regional, and general ecclesiastical officers to these families in confusion and agony would have been healing and welcomed, right up to the summer of 1994; but the distancing, the scoldings and lectures, the continual return of the issue to the local level, and the "lecturing" tone of some of the communications all communicated to the families involved that they were wrong, bad, and expendable. Perhaps these officers were offended by the anger the McCallisters felt and communicated. Perhaps they, accustomed to anxious and eager deference from members, decided to stand on their dignity instead of ministering to members in pain. But how would the experience have been different for all concerned if even one General Authority had made a sufficient effort to empathize, expressed a willingness to learn, or communicated recognition of the trauma of the abuse and its secondary effects?

Such a scenario is not impossible. Elder Eduardo Ayala, formerly of the Seventy, recounted that President Kimball, after the first area conference in Chile, a gathering that drew 15,000 Mormons from four countries to a stadium, asked "to see the children." In the "great silence" that followed, President Kimball greeted "about two thousand children one by one, crying as he shook their hands or kissed them or put his hands on their heads and blessed them." The children, hushed and still, also wept as they looked at him, and President Kimball said "he’d never felt this kind of spirit in his life."6 A prophet was willing to minister to two thousand children, one by one. Where is the ministry to the twenty children in these three families?

The visits by two General Authorities to the Hales family acknowledged no reason for visiting—not the children’s abuse, Roseanne’s divorce, her health, her financial situation, Keith’s painful estrangement from his beloved mission president, or the family’s inactivity. In some ways, the bright pretense that nothing was wrong only mocked their suffering and deepened their mistrust. Although the Haleses are supportive of one another, they do not all understand or interpret their experiences in the same way, and these divisions are deeply painful. As they struggle to maintain their faith while simultaneously maintaining a safe distance from the Church, they cling to their faith in the Savior but frequently feel wearied by the burdens they carry.

Nearly every written communication from an officer included an expression of "love"—but this message lacked conviction when it was combined with personal coldness and punishing official actions. Jack McCallister summarizes the skepticism with which he now regards such statements: "When a church official says he loves you, I always wonder what it means. I’ve been ‘loved’ by a bishop before. I don’t think I want any more.

No one in the McCallister, Plourde, or Hales family wants to carry a grudge or harbor resentment. For all of them, moving beyond bitterness toward forgiveness is an important part of their healing. Although each would express that quest in individual terms, perhaps Jack’s thoughts will form an adequate conclusion:

The greatest challenge I face is that of my own personal spiritual recovery. I have had to struggle to free myself from the constant fear of unworthiness and the constant institutionalized shame. I have succeeded, thanks to personal faith in Christ’s atonement based on his pure, unconditional love. I can no longer accept that any institution can claim an exclusive right to all truth. Christ’s declaration that "I am the way, the truth, and the life" is a personal description, an invitation to follow him. God intends for all of his children to share in his love and healing. It is inconsistent with the nature of God to franchise his power only to a few, like a fast food chain. We are all created in the image of God, not just the few, the proud, the self-appointed elite. We all have an equal right to receive and share God’s gracious gifts.

When he said, "Many are called but few are chosen," I think he was calling us to receive his immediate love and healing. If we do, then we can go and do likewise. Being chosen is a sign of our willingness to receive, not our worthiness to receive.

I feel as if I’ve worn an invisible "A" all my life. First it stood for "ashamed"—how I felt about my sexual victimization as a teenager. Then it stood for "apostate," a label pasted on me by priesthood officials for speaking up to protect children against sexual abuse. Now, two years away from those turbulent events, I can truthfully say that it stands for "awakening." I have finally begun to awaken to the reality of being embraced by Jesus Christ in my imperfect state and being healed from my incorrect perceptions. I celebrate my awakening. I am grateful for it. I welcome more enlightenment.

Overcoming my fear to forgive was my final frontier. It takes a lot of energy to forgive someone who has sexually abused you. It takes even more effort to forgive someone who has sexually abused your wife and children. It takes intense purpose to forgive all of the LDS priesthood officials who spiritually abused all of us. It takes reborn faith to forgive God for allowing all this trauma. And finally, it takes a miracle to forgive yourself for being a vulnerable human being.

I have come to understand that to God all miracles are equal in terms of difficulty. For him, parting the Red Sea was no more difficult than taking my burden of anger, fear, and shame that had accumulated over a lifetime.

My motivation to forgive is internal, not external. It comes from my need for my own spiritual and emotional relief. I went through a long process in approaching forgiveness. I had to decide that I deserved healing. I had to decide that I wanted to have faith in God and his ability to take the emotional burden away and heal all of the areas that had been infected with anger. I had to decide that I was willing to trust God’s process, that I would not try to control the outcome, and that anger, fear, and shame were making me insane.

I came to these ideas slowly because my priesthood leaders had hammered away that it was my "duty to forgive the offenders." Every time I heard that speech, I was filled with anger and shame—anger that they hid from their own responsibility and accountability behind this way to blame me and searing, spearing shame that I could not obey this commandment. I knew that to forgive I had to correctly understand God’s perception of the forgiveness process.

I started out with a list of what forgiveness was not. Forgiveness is not forgetting about the abuse or abuser. Forgiveness is not an obligation imposed on the victim. Forgiveness is not silence or keeping secrets. Forgiveness is not condoning inappropriate, harmful behavior. Forgiveness is not minimizing the trauma. Forgiveness is not denying that it ever happened. Forgiveness is not willingness to be revictimized. Forgiveness is not helplessness to heal from the trauma. And forgiveness is not necessarily wanting to have lunch together.

I already knew that forgiveness was not vengeance. I reasoned that no sane person would abuse another—spiritually, sexually, physically, or emotionally. So all abuse has a core of insanity in it All offenders need to be healed from their insane ideas or the abuse will recur. It would be insane not to want sanity for all of God’s children, since we are all interconnected and interdependent. I had to be willing to release my judgements against my abusers. Instead of wanting them condemned to hell, I decided to commend them to healing. I had to decide that God’s grace was sufficient to accomplish my healing and theirs.

At that point, I understood forgiveness to be my willingness to ask God to remove my intensely painful feelings from the memory of the abuse and to help me release the abusers to experience the best good that they could accept from God. If God is willing to take away my pain and heal me, I realized, I would be insane not to allow him to do it. And I would be ungrateful and manipulative not to want him to heal everyone else afflicted by any form of the same insanity. At this stage, I did not feel obligated to forgive the abusers. It felt like a gift freely given, a recognition of the insanity they were trapped in.

I had to give up my fear that forgiveness meant not caring any more—not caring about the children who had been abused and who were still at risk. I wanted the pain I had experienced to mean something. I wanted it to make me willing to serve. I support universal healing, not denial. The first priority must be to protect the children from the offenders, not protect the institution from the negative publicity created by the abuse. Professional and spiritual intervention are required to effect a permanent, positive change.

I discovered a sequence to forgiving: (1) trust God as my higher power, (2) release my painful emotions to him, (3) accept God’s healing into my life, and (4) serve God’s will, not my own.

Of the three negative emotions, anger, fear, and shame, anger was the hardest to let go of. Anger has always given me a false sense of empowerment and strength. I was reluctant to release my feelings of anger because I did not want to feel vulnerable and defenseless again against sexual or spiritual assault, but this task became easier when I realized that anger gave me only an illusion of power and strength. I wanted the reality instead.

I had to struggle with my own limited faith. Could I trust God to be there? I believed that God was capable of taking my burden, but I did not know if he was willing to do so. Was there a way to test him? What if I felt emotional relief but it was only temporary? The questions were real, but I also realized that my faith, though fragile, was sincere. I wanted to trust God completely. The hope of relief was better than no hope at all. And I was so tired of struggling with the whole load myself.

In a simple, meditative prayer, I asked God to come into my life to take away my pain and correct my wrong perceptions. I asked him to heal my abusers by removing their incorrect perceptions. I asked him to permanently remove the unbearable burden.

I testify, humbly and with joy, that he did. God immediately took forty years of pain, anger, and shame from me. I extended my forgiveness as a free gift to my abusers, released them to God for their highest and best good. I feel free. The pressures of anger, shame, and fear are gone. I have not missed their turmoil in my life. I feel healed. I feel God’s unconditional love. I feel his constant care. I feel whole and complete. My heart is filled with praise and gratitude for God’s grace and love.

Notes for Chapter 17: (Click on the Back button to return to the note reference.)

1 Photocopies of "Oklahoma Indigent Defense System Trial Level Representation Contract Bid Proposals" for fiscal years beginning July 1,1993, July 1, 1994, and July 1, 1995. According to Powell’s résumé, attached to the bid proposal, he has been an indigent public defender in Kingfisher County since 1991, and earlier has "been engaged in the defense of Indigent Clients since 1979." His 1994 bid contract in four areas gave "anticipated" figures for each class of case; juveniles was the smallest figure with five, compared to felonies (40), misdemeanors (16), and mental (12).

2 John Parker, "Ex-Trader Argues 10-Year Sentence Doesn’t Fit Crime," Daily Oklahoman, 24July 1995,1.

3 Other national conferences that that they have attended and found useful for networking are MALE (Men Assisting, Leading, and Educating), for male sexual abuse survivors, Denver, in April 1995. 1-800-949-MALE; Link-Up: Survivors of Clergy Abuse, Chicago, August 1995, 1-800-LINK-UP-6; VOICES (Victims of Incest Can Emerge Survivors), Indianapolis, November 1995, 1-800-7-VOICE-8; Mungadze Association, Dallas, November 1995, 1-800-388-1838 (for survivors of dissociative disorder and multiple personalities from ritual abuse); Kempe Center Foundation for incest survivors, headed by former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, Oklahoma City, April 1996, 303-321-3963. FAX: 303-322-9374. Jack and Merradyth are eager to talk to other survivors of Mercer’s and Powell’s abuse, (405) 284-6484.

4 According to the executive director, Tom Economus (Letter to Jack and Merradyth McCallister, 17 January 1995), "The Linkup is an Ecumenical national response to an assault on innocence and faith. Linkup is the largest Advocacy group of its kind with over 5,000 members. Linkup seeks to assist victim/survivors [to] confront the facts of their abuse, to obtain the resources necessary to heal themselves, to assert their legal right, and to urge all institutional churches to develop and fully implement responsible, accountable policies and procedures."

5 Transcript and videotape in my possession.

6 Eduardo Ayala, "Friend to Friend," The Friend, March 1996, 6-7.