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Allegations of Sex Abuse Kept Silent by Mormon Church Help Line

An article released by the Associated Press shows how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon Church, has a system in place that leaves sex abuse victims unprotected while shielding sex offenders. Church leaders are instructed to follow directions from higher-ups, reporting potential sex abuse crimes through an in-house help line. However, once help line workers receive reports of abuse, the information is channeled to the Church’s legal team instead of the abuse being reported directly to law enforcement.

In 2012, in a Mormon Church in Bisbee, Arizona, the bishop of the church became concerned after hearing a confession from a parishioner, Paul Douglas Adams. Adams was an employee of the U.S. Border Patrol and admitted to Bishop John Herrod that he had repeatedly raped his five-year-old daughter.  

Sign of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Wantirna, Victoria Australia.

Following protocol, Herrod called the church help line. However, instead of encouraging the bishop to turn the alleged sex abuser into the police, Herrod was told the opposite – to keep the information secret. 

Because Adams was not stopped, the young girl continued to endure sexual abuse for at least seven more years. To add to the devastation, Adams also began abusing another daughter, the first victim’s baby sister.

How Information about Sex Abuse was Kept Quiet

When it was time for Herrod to step down from his position in Bisbee, he had a confidential conversation with his replacement, Bishop Robert “Kim” Mauzy, sharing the information concerning Adams. 

Like Herrod, Mauzy also brought up Adams with church officials who directed the new bishop to conduct a confidential disciplinary hearing. This led to Adams being ex-communicated from the Mormon Church in 2013.

However, it would not be until 2016, and with no help from the church, before law enforcement apprehended Adams. The arrest came after law enforcement in New Zealand traced a nine-minute video of a man raping a child to a cell phone to a man in Arizona. That man was Adams.

Although Adams confessed to the crimes while in custody, he committed suicide before standing trial on federal child pornography charges and state child sex abuse charges.

The Mormon Church and Clergy-Penitent Privilege

In Arizona, as well as in other states, there is a law that dictates that anyone caring for a minor, including clergy, physicians, nurses and teachers, who “reasonably believe” a child has been abused or neglected has a legal obligation to report the information to law enforcement or the State Department of Child Safety. 

But when it came to the situation with Adams, church attorneys determined  “clergy-penitent privilege,” as a loophole to that law, which is found on the books in at least 24 states. 

Through clergy-penitent privilege, clergy who find themselves in a situation like Herrod could consider not reporting what was learned during the confession because doing so was “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.”

And so, when Herrod contacted the clergy help line, he was advised to keep Adams’ confession private.

“They (attorneys for LDS) said, ‘You absolutely can do nothing,” Herrod said in a recorded interview with law enforcement obtained by the AP. 

How the Church Help Line Works

The help line, run out of the church’s risk management division, requires its workers to destroy “records of all calls at the close of each day.’’

Along with that, if a worker receives a call that may “present a risk to the church,’’ including abuse by well-known church members or “especially egregious” instances of abuse,” they are required to send the call to attorneys at Kirton McConkie, the LDS law firm located in Salt Lake City. According to the AP, by design, the help line not only keeps top leaders abreast of sensitive issues throughout the LDS but it also provides another form of security – the calls are shielded from being used by prosecutors or victims’ attorneys.

For their part, three of Adams’ six children filed a lawsuit against the LDS in Arizona. In the case, the plaintiffs address how the help line operates. 

The lawsuit alleges: “The Mormon Church implements the Helpline, not for the protection and spiritual counseling of sexual abuse victims…but for (church) attorneys to snuff out complaints and protect the Mormon Church from potentially costly lawsuits.”

In response to the AP article, the church released a statement criticizing the report and said the description of the help line was mischaracterized.

“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,” the statement said. “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.