SNAP applauds Arizona Judge's ruling on clergy-penitent privilege in high profile case

(For Immediate Release August 19, 2022) 

An Arizona judge, overseeing a high-profile lawsuit accusing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of conspiring to cover up child sex abuse, has ruled that the church may not refuse to answer questions or turn over documents under the state’s “clergy-penitent privilege.” We applaud the court’s decision and stand proud to support the tireless efforts of victims and advocates alike who are seeking justice.

The story out of Brisbee, Arizona, is heartbreaking. A man named Paul Douglas Adams physically and sexually abused his children for years while their mother Leizza Adams knew and did nothing, The fact that the father confessed his crime to church officials at the Mormon congregation to which he belonged, only for them to refuse to report the crimes to police and keep the information internal, makes the situation even more disturbing.

The lawsuit was filed by three of Paul and Leizza Adams' six children, and was featured in a recent Associated Press story. The AP reported that bishops John Herrod and Robert “Kim” Mauzy contacted a Mormon "abuse help line" for advice in the case. The AP concluded that the "help line" was part of a system that diverted accusations away from law enforcement and to church attorneys, placing victims in jeopardy.

It is extremely upsetting to us that people who were aware of the abuse opted to remain silent rather than intervene to prevent these youngsters from further pain. Who is left to safeguard the children when adults opt to protect themselves and their reputations?

This disturbing case of child sexual abuse and cover-up is now drawing attention to the need to reform mandatory reporting laws in Utah. Rep. Angela Romero, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, informed FOX 13 News that she was reintroducing a measure that she had first introduced in 2020. Religion-based organizations vigorously opposed the bill. She is not the only one championing the cause this year. Rep. Phil Lyman, a Republican from Blanding, said he was also preparing legislation along the same lines.

According to Judy Larson, SNAP Board Member, and Utah SNAP Leader, a rally will take place on the evening of Friday, August 19th at Utah’s State Capitol. “The rally was organized by a group of women in a book club who decided they had to support the legislation.”

As we see it, the clergy-penitent privilege can be equivalent to a get-out-of-jail-free card. We hope that politicians in every state will be motivated to establish new legislation that will safeguard children in their state from unnecessary damage, rather than merely being appalled by the Adams' case. Repealing the priest-penitent privilege and mandating clergy to disclose abuse is one modest step that will help save future children in dangerous situations.

Contact: Utah SNAP Leader, Judy Klapperich-Larson, (801- 831-5277  [email protected]), Mary O'Day, Phoenix Arizona SNAP Leader, ([email protected]) Charlene Black, Phoenix SNAP Leader, ([email protected]) SNAP Tucson, Tim Lennon (415-312-5820, [email protected]) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communication Manager, ([email protected], 267-261-0578)

(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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    published this page in Media Statements 2022-08-19 13:09:38 -0500

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