AP Report in LDS Abuse Demonstrates a Common Fact: Religious Institutions Will Always Protect Themselves Before Children
In an unsurprising development, an AP News report has uncovered what sex abuse advocates have known for years – that church officials with Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the US have been following the playbook set by the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and other religious institutions – in cases of sex abuse, protect the institution, not the children.
The Brisbee, AZ, case of Paul Douglas Adams and Leizza Adams from 2020 helped shine a national spotlight on the ways that church leaders for the Mormon church prioritized internal reporting, keeping cases of abuse quiet, and the protection of reputations above the prevention of abuse. After it came to light that a Mormon bishop (the LDS equivalent to a parish priest or pastor) knowingly allowed Adams to abuse his two daughters for at least seven years, we had no doubt that similar cases were happening across the country. We are grateful to Mike Rezendes and the AP team for exposing these cases and abuses and hope that this national outrage will lead to change.
As noted by the AP, Mormon officials use the same tactics employed by other religious institutions, most notably by encouraging internal reporting and internal investigations into cases as opposed to relying on independent, secular authorities. This insularity promotes secrecy and must be legislated out of existence. To that end, the AP reporters are right to point out the problem with clergy-penitent privilege, and SNAP has long called for and will continue to call for an end to this loophole in mandatory reporting laws.
But in order to make a dent in the scourge of clergy sex abuse, more must be done than ramping up reporting laws. The full weight of our justice system must be used against these institutions which have time and time again demonstrated a willingness to lie and obfuscate in order to protect themselves. Attorney General investigations must be launched in every state, with subpoena power and warrants, to compel the release of files to determine the true extent of abuse within these churches. And we must go even farther, compelling a Congressional investigation into these institutions, and giving them the authority to yank the 501(c)3 status of any church that has promoted the protection of assets ahead of prevention of and intervention in abuse cases.
These investigations are always shocking and the stories are always harrowing, but too often the results are the same: outrage backed by inaction. This past year has shown that the issue of clergy abuse goes beyond any one church, and we hope that the collective outrage felt by parishioners and parents throughout the country will lead to a demand for reform and accountability that is finally heard by our elected officials.
CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)