Brisbee Abuse Case Underscores Need to Eliminate Clergy Penitent Privilege

A disturbing case of child sexual abuse and cover-up in Tucson is drawing attention to the need to reform laws to ensure that cases of abuse are reported quickly so that children can be protected and authorities can intervene in abusive situations.

The case from Brisbee, AZ is disturbing and involves a father – Paul Douglas Adams – physically and sexually abusing his children for years while their mother – Leizza Adams – knew and did nothing. Making matters worse is the fact that the father confessed his crime to leaders at the Mormon church he attended, but rather than report the ongoing-abuse, church leaders covered it up and kept the information internal.

It is heartbreaking that these three children were tortured and abused by the two people who were supposed to protect them and love them the most. It is enraging that others who learned of the abuse chose to keep it quiet rather than intervene to save these children from ongoing trauma. When adults choose to protect themselves and their reputations, who is left to protect the children?

One avenue that could have helped the Adams children is the strengthening of mandatory reporting laws and the repeal of loopholes that allow cover-ups to go on. In Arizona, clergy are considered mandatory reporters of child abuse, but they are shielded by the clergy-penitent privilege loophole that allows them not to report cases of child abuse if they learned about the situation via pastoral care, such as a confession. Obviously, this loophole completely undercuts the purpose of the law and must be closed so church authorities are compelled to inform the police when children are in danger.

We hope that Arizona lawmakers will not simply be disgusted by this case but will be compelled to create new legislation that will protect children in their state from preventable harm. Repealing the clergy-penitent privilege and requiring clergy to actually report abuse is one small step they can take that can help rescue future children that are in horrific situations.

CONTACT: Tim Lennon, SNAP President and Tucson Leader (tlennon@snapnetwork.org, 415-312-4580) Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 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)


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