Today’s Seattle Times reported on the recent verdict:
In a decision that could reverberate through clergy sexual-abuse cases everywhere, a King County Superior Court jury has awarded $4.2 million to two sisters who were sexually abused for years by their stepfather, a Mormon priest.
Gordon Congor, spokesman for the Church and former Stake President, noted that the abuse occurred in the home of the perpetrator and that his calling in the church had no bearing on the abuse. The media’s use of the term “priest” is, in the opinion of this blogger, highly disingenuous. As I see it, the case has nothing to do with his status as a lay minister. This, however, does not at all mitigate the Church’s responsibility to protect the flock.
The case hinged on the confidentiality of confessions. When the perpetrator confessed the abuse, the information was kept confidential and authorities were not notified. This verdict would seem to be in contradiction with a relatively recent Washington State Court of Appeals Opinion Information Sheet (you can’t link directly to it, so go here and search for the docket number (52452-6-I) under advanced search). This overturned a lower court decision that found a High Council Court to be non-confidential. It is a sad case of child abuse and I’ll let the great legal minds of the bloggernacle analyze it if they so desire. My take on it is that the Church likes confidentiality because it shields them from litigation.
I hope that cases like these are relics of a naive past, though abuse will persist as it does throughout society. Current church policy is to have Judges in Israel call a hotline immediately on confession of abuse. Perpetrators are urged to confess to the authorities, but as I understand it are not compelled. Church hierarchy is to take direct action when victims remain in danger. Moreover, child abuse of any sort is one of a few actions that requires amendment of church membership records.
Confidentiality is a difficult concept in the church. Historically, the church was much more open to public confessions. Perhaps it is time we reevaluate our current policy.
UPDATE 11/23/05: The Church has a recent press release that covers their position on child abuse, and other matters related to this thread available here.