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Arizona Supreme Court Finds The Mormon Church Can Conceal Crimes Against Children


Posted by Travis Uresk | April 13th, 2023 | Child Sex Abuse |


By Michael Rezendes & Jason Dearen

4/11/23


On April 7, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can refuse to report child sex abuse if the abuser confesses to the crime in a confessional setting.


The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can refuse to answer questions or turn over documents under a state law that exempts religious officials from having to report child sex abuse if they learn of the crime during a confessional setting.


The ruling was issued April 7 but not released to the public until Tuesday. A lawsuit filed by child sex abuse victims accuses the church, widely known as the Mormon church, two of its bishops, and other church members of conspiracy and negligence in not reporting church member Paul Adams for abusing his older daughter as early as 2010. This negligence, the lawsuit argues, allowed Adams to continuing abusing the girl for as many as seven years, a time in which he also abused the girl’s infant sister.


Lynne Cadigan, an attorney for the Adams children who filed the lawsuit, criticized the court’s ruling.


“Unfortunately, this ruling expands the clergy privilege beyond what the legislature intended by allowing churches to conceal crimes against children,” she said.

In a statement, the church concurred with the court’s action.


“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agrees with the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision,” the statement said. “We are deeply saddened by the abuse these children suffered. The Church has no tolerance of abuse of any kind.”


Adams had also posted videos of himself sexually abusing his daughters on the internet, boasted of the abuse on social media, and confessed to federal law enforcement agents, who arrested him in 2017 with no help from the church.


Those actions prompted Cochise County Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal to rule on Aug. 8, 2022, that Adams had waived his right to keep his 2010 confession to Bishop John Herrod secret.


“Taken together, Adams’ overt acts demonstrate a lack of repentance and a profound disregard” for the principles of the church, Cardinal said in her ruling. “His acts can only be characterized as a waiver of the clergy penitent privilege.”


Clergy in Arizona, as in many other states, are required to report information about child sexual abuse or neglect to law enforcement or child welfare authorities. An exception to that law — known as the clergy-penitent privilege — allows members of the clergy who learn of the abuse through spiritual confessions to keep the information secret.


The church has based its defense in the lawsuit on the privilege, asserting that Herrod and a second bishop who learned of Adams’ confession, Robert “Kim” Mauzy, had no legal obligation to report him for abusing his older daughter and appealed Cardinal’s ruling.


On Dec. 15, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the church, saying it did not have to turn over disciplinary records for Adams, who was excommunicated in 2013. The Appeals Court also ruled that a church official who attended a church disciplinary hearing could refuse to answer questions from the plaintiff’s attorneys during pretrial testimony, based on the clergy-penitent privilege.


Lawyers representing the Adams girls and one of their brothers took the case to the Arizona Supreme Court, where they did not prevail, according to the April ruling.


In an unusual move, Cadigan said attorneys for the three Adams children intend to file a motion asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.


An Associated Press investigation of the clergy privilege shows it exists in 33 states and that the Mormon church, often joined by the Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faiths, have successfully lobbied against attempts to reform or eliminate it.



From the LDS Handbook:

38.6.2

Abuse

Abuse is the mistreatment or neglect of others in a way that causes physical, sexual, emotional, or financial harm. The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse their spouses, children, other family members, or anyone else violate the laws of God and man.


All members, especially parents and leaders, are encouraged to be alert and diligent and do all they can to protect children and others against abuse. If members become aware of instances of abuse, they report it to civil authorities and counsel with the bishop. Church leaders should take reports of abuse seriously and never disregard them.


All adults who work with children or youth are to complete children and youth protection training within one month of being sustained (see ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). They are to repeat the training every three years.


When abuse occurs, the first and immediate responsibility of Church leaders is to help those who have been abused and to protect vulnerable persons from future abuse. Leaders should not encourage a person to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.


38.6.2.1

Abuse Help Line

In some countries, the Church has established a confidential abuse help line to assist stake presidents and bishops. These leaders should promptly call the help line about every situation in which a person may have been abused—or is at risk of being abused. They should also call it if they become aware of a member viewing, purchasing, or distributing child pornography.


The help line is available for bishops and stake presidents to call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Phone numbers are shown below.

  • United States and Canada: 1-801-240-1911 or 1-800-453-3860, extension 2-1911

  • United Kingdom: 0800 970 6757

  • Ireland: 1800 937 546

  • France: 0805 710 531

  • Australia: 02 9841 5454 (from within the country)

  • New Zealand: 09 488 5592 (from within the country)

Bishops and stake presidents should call the help line when addressing situations involving any type of abuse. Legal and clinical professionals will answer their questions. These professionals will also give instructions about how to:

  • Assist victims and help protect them from further abuse.

  • Help protect potential victims.

  • Comply with legal requirements for reporting abuse.

The Church is committed to complying with the law in reporting abuse (see 38.6.2.7). Laws differ by location, and most Church leaders are not legal experts. Calling the help line is essential for bishops and stake presidents to fulfill their responsibilities to report abuse.


A bishop should also notify his stake president of instances of abuse.

In countries that do not have a help line, a bishop who learns of abuse should contact his stake president. The stake president should seek guidance from the area legal counsel at the area office. He is also encouraged to counsel with the Family Services staff or the welfare and self-reliance manager at the area office.


38.6.2.2

Counseling in Cases of Abuse

Victims of abuse often suffer serious trauma. Stake presidents and bishops respond with heartfelt compassion and empathy. They provide spiritual counseling and support to help victims overcome the destructive effects of abuse.


Sometimes victims have feelings of shame or guilt. Victims are not guilty of sin. Leaders help them and their families understand God’s love and the healing that comes through Jesus Christ and His Atonement (see Alma 15:8; 3 Nephi 17:9).


Stake presidents and bishops should help those who have committed abuse to repent and to cease their abusive behavior. If an adult has committed a sexual sin against a child, the behavior may be very difficult to change. The process of repentance may be very prolonged. See 38.6.2.3.


Stake presidents and bishops should also be caring and sensitive when working with the families of victims and perpetrators of abuse.


Guidance for counseling victims and offenders is provided at Abuse: How to Help.

In addition to receiving the inspired help of Church leaders, victims, offenders, and their families may need professional counseling. For information, see 31.3.6.


For information about what bishops and stake presidents should do when they learn of any type of abuse, see 38.6.2.1. For information about counseling in cases of sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of sexual assault, see 38.6.18.2.


38.6.2.3

Child or Youth Abuse

Abuse of a child or youth is an especially serious sin (see Luke 17:2). As used here, child or youth abuse includes the following:

  • Physical abuse: Inflicting serious bodily harm by physical violence. Some harm may not be visible.

  • Sexual abuse or exploitation: Having any sexual activity with a child or youth or intentionally allowing or helping others to have such activity. As used here, sexual abuse does not include consensual sexual activity between two minors who are close in age.

  • Emotional abuse: Using actions and words to seriously damage a child or youth’s sense of self-respect or self-worth. This usually involves repeated and continuing insults, manipulations, and criticisms that humiliate and belittle. It may also include gross neglect.

  • Child pornography: See 38.6.6.

If a bishop or stake president learns of or suspects child or youth abuse, he promptly follows the instructions in 38.6.2.1. He also takes action to help protect against further abuse.


A Church membership council and record annotation are required if an adult member abuses a child or youth as described in this section. See also 32.6.1.1 and 38.6.2.5.

If a minor abuses a child, the stake president contacts the Office of the First Presidency for direction.


Physical or emotional bullying between children or youth of a similar age should be addressed by ward leaders. A membership council is not held.


38.6.2.4

Abuse of a Spouse or Another Adult

Abuse of a spouse or another adult can occur in many ways. These include physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. Adults who are elderly, vulnerable, or disabled are sometimes at high risk for abuse.


Often there is not a single definition of abuse that can be applied in all situations. Instead, there is a spectrum of severity in abusive behavior. This spectrum ranges from occasionally using sharp words to inflicting serious harm.


If a bishop or stake president learns of abuse of a spouse or another adult, he promptly follows the instructions in 38.6.2.1. He also takes action to help protect against further abuse.


Leaders seek the direction of the Spirit to determine whether personal counseling or a membership council is the most appropriate setting to address abuse. They may also counsel with their direct priesthood leader about the setting. However, any abuse of a spouse or another adult that rises to the levels described below requires holding a membership council.

  • Physical abuse: Inflicting serious bodily harm by physical violence. Some harm may not be visible.

  • Sexual abuse: See the situations specified in 38.6.18.3.

  • Emotional abuse: Using actions and words to seriously damage a person’s sense of self-respect or self-worth. This usually involves repeated and continuing insults, manipulations, and criticisms that humiliate and belittle.

  • Financial abuse: Taking advantage of someone financially. This may include the illegal or unauthorized use of a person’s property, money, or other valuables. It may also include fraudulently obtaining financial power over someone. It could include using financial power to coerce behavior. See also 32.6.1.3.





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