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Church Responds to AP Investigation into Abuse Reporting

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UPDATE 8/5/22 – On August 5, 2022, the Church responded with the following statement:

The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes this, teaches this, and dedicates tremendous resources and efforts to prevent, report and address abuse. Our hearts break for these children and all victims of abuse.

The nature and the purpose of the Church’s help line was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article. The help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met. It provides a place for local leaders, who serve voluntarily, to receive direction from experts to determine who should make a report and whether they (local leaders) should play a role in that reporting. When a leader calls the help line, the conversation is about how to stop the abuse, care for the victim and ensure compliance with reporting obligations, even in cases when the law provides clergy-penitent privilege or restricts what can be shared from private ecclesiastical conversations.

The help line is just one of many safeguards put in place by the Church. Any member serving in a role with children or youth is required to complete a training every few years about how to watch for, report and address abuse. Leaders and members are offered resources on how to prevent, address and report abuse of any kind. Church teachings and handbooks are clear and unequivocal about the evils of abuse. Members who violate those teachings are disciplined by the Church and may lose their privileges or membership. These are just a few examples.

The story presented in the AP article is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts. We will continue to teach and follow Jesus Christ’s admonition to care for one another, especially in our efforts related to abuse.

On early Thursday morning, an investigation by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Rezendes was released by the Associated Press. Entitled “Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen,” the investigation covers the alleged failure of Latter-day Saint leaders and official Church systems to protect children from sexual abuse after it had been reported.

Here’s what members of the Church need to know about the investigation. Please note, this article contains descriptions of child abuse and other material readers may find disturbing.

What the Article Covers

The article focuses on Paul Douglas Adams who sexually abused his five-year-old daughter and admitted it to his Latter-day Saint bishop, John Herrod. When Herrod called the Church’s hotline, he was told not to report the abuse to the police or child welfare services. In recorded interviews and other materials obtained by the AP, Herrod continues to counsel Adams and his wife, Leizza Adams and asks if the abuse is ongoing and how they are going to stop it.  Adams would be ex-communicated in 2013 by the following bishop, Robert Mauzy, who was instructed by Church officials to hold a disciplinary hearing. Two years later, Adams would begin sexually abusing his infant daughter, who frequently upload videos of the acts with his daughters to the internet.

Herrod, in talking with Homeland Security agents after Adams was arrested in 2017, stated he was told the state of Arizona required him to keep the abuse confidential due to his role as a clergy leader. However, the investigation has discovered the law dictates the opposite—that anyone caring for a child who “reasonably believes” a child is being abused or neglected must report it.

AP Illustration by Peter Hamlin based on legal documents.
AP Illustration by Peter Hamlin based on legal documents.

The article then follows the efforts of the lawsuit filed by the Adams children claiming The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a direct effort in concealing the abuse. A criminal investigation was also launched. The article states, “The lawsuit filed by the three Adams children accuses The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and several members, including Bishops Herrod and Mauzy, of negligence and conspiring to cover up child sex abuse to avoid ‘costly lawsuits’ and protect the reputation of the church.”

It also speaks to other similar lawsuits of abuse victims.

The Hotline Records

A large portion of the investigation focuses on the helpline set up for Church leaders to call when abuse and other crimes are disclosed to them in an ecclesiastical setting. The AP obtained nearly 12,000 pages of sealed records from an unrelated, but similar lawsuit that goes into detail about the workings of the helpline.

“The sealed records say calls to the help line are answered by social workers or professional counselors who determine whether the information they receive is serious enough to be referred to an attorney with Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City firm that represents the church.”

According to the documents, staff workers were instructed by the “Protocol” to never advise leaders to contact authorities. Instead, such cases had to be referred to legal counsel who was authorized to give such instruction. The investigation goes into what it believes are multiple failings of the system.

The Survivors

The investigation highlights the aftermath and healing of multiple survivors, including the Adams’ children, who have since been adopted into a loving family. It helps readers understand the severity of the trauma survivors face and the importance of rescuing children from such evil circumstances.

MJ and her adoptive mother sit for an interview with The Associated Press in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Oct. 27, 2021. State authorities placed MJ in foster care after learning that her father, the late Paul Adams, sexually assaulted her and posted video of the assaults on the Internet. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
One of the Adams children and her adoptive mother. | AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

 The Church’s Current Policies on Reporting Abuse

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has continually updated its policies to help leaders respond to allegations and reports of abuse. In 2018, the First Presidency sent a letter to leaders with information on how to identify, respond to, and report abuse. It included information about the helpline, stating “legal and clinical professionals will answer their questions and provide instructions about to assist victims, comply with local laws and requirements for reporting abuse, and protect against future abuse.”

In 2019, the Church also launched an online training course for all adults who interact with children and youth as part of the assignments. The training was “designed to increase awareness, highlight policies and identify best practices for supervising and interacting with children and youth. It also helps leaders know how to prevent and respond to abuse. Leaders and specialists from child protection organizations, family therapists and other professionals participated in the creation and evaluation of the new training.”

The most recent edition of the Church handbook states, “Abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Take reports of abuse seriously. If you become aware that someone has been abused, report the abuse to civil authorities and counsel with the bishop.”

“Church leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities. In some locations, leaders and teachers who work with children and youth are considered “mandated reporters” and must report abuse to legal authorities. Similarly, in many locations, any person who learns of abuse is required to report it to legal authorities. Bishops and stake presidents should call the helpline for details about mandated reporters and other legal requirements for reporting abuse. The Church’s policy is to obey the law.”

Featured Image | Ap Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills
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Aleah Ingram
Aleah Ingram
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.

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