When Secrecy Nullifies Sanctity

It was no small miracle in my life that the Bishop was out of town that week. My mother picked up the phone, distraught in the summer of 1978. The first counselor on the other end simply said, “You’ve called the right person. Go down to the police station.” It was no small miracle in my life that the first counselor was also a detective, specializing in crimes against children. These were not the man next door’s first offenses. I’m sure they were not his last after his short stay in prison.

If there’s anything we’ve learned through the ages, it is that sex offenders don’t give up their crimes easily. Their crimes plague them, and spread their scourge upon the young children who will continue to bear these burdens. And yet as Christians we are bound to succor both victim and perpetrator. It is for this for this reason, and to protect the innocent, that confession to ecclesiastical authorities of crimes against children, even if the abused child is on the brink of adulthood, must be held sacred but not secret. If we truly desire to help both the offender and the offended, we will stop enabling abuse under a guilty conscience made free in the confines of a bishop’s office. We will shield those who cannot defend themselves with the oaths of the justice system, rather than shield a person who climbs faulty stairs of repentance. We will without question, turn them in.

When ecclesiastical leaders wait, hoping the whisperings of the spirit will turn the tide, it sends a message to both the perpetrator and the victim that what they have done, or what they are doing is really not that serious. I promise, it is.


  1. Amen.

  2. I agree that involving the civil authorities is important in child abuse cases, and I think that is, in fact, the policy of the Church at this point. Anyone know for sure?

    Any time that the parent of an abused child becomes aware of something like this, that parent should go to the police immediately, not to the bishop. Of course, the ward is a great support system for children and other ward members who are the victims of any crime, but bishops are not trained counselors, especially for child victioms of sex crimes, and I think most bishops would quickly admit that.

    If this happened to you mmiles, you have my deepest sympathy. That is a terrible thing for any child to endure.

  3. MCQ,

    I think it varies from state to state. However it is my not so humble opinion that the Church should take a hard line on reporting, always.

    There have been two cases recently, one in Idaho and one in Arizona where that was not done.

  4. Cynthia L. says:

    Amen and amen.

  5. The policy is to follow the laws of the state. Clergy are typically exempt from being mandatory reporters in Arizona, thus the Susan Brock case was eventually reported by the victim’s father after he was “tired of waiting” for something to be done after speaking to church officials.

  6. Naismith says:

    I appreciate that this is mostly about reporting, which is mandatory in our state, even for clergy, so that was a non-issue.

    But I have to say that in our experience, the penalties from the state were much less than the consequences exacted from the church. The church insisted that the perpetrator (a young man) get a job and pay for my child’s therapy. Months and months of therapy. This made a lot of sense, and was a tangible restitution. I am not sure how we would have paid for it otherwise, and it was certainly necessary to the child’s recovery.

  7. ErinAnn says:

    According to the article I just read, “The crime was brought to police attention by the family of the victim’s girlfriend who saw explicit messages from Susan Brock on the boy’s cell phone.”

    What is wrong with parents that they don’t call the police straight away when they learn that their child has been abused or assaulted?!?! I called the police to report my car stereo being stolen, and I certainly care quite a bit more about my children than my car.

  8. The priest penitent privilege is not involved in the case described in the opening post. Had the bishop been in town, his obligation under Church policy and under the law (if in that state clergy are mandatory reporters) would have been to call the police and/or to send your mother to the police.

    Why? Because the information came from somewhere other than a confession by an offender within the confines of the priest penitent privilege.

    Different religious and legal issues arise when the sole source of the information is from a confidential confession to clergy (or lawyer) for that matter.

    Thus far the law protects from mandatory disclosure confessions to a lawyer by a client of child abuse, just as it protects confessions of other heinous crimes. In many states, there are statutory exemptions and protection from mandatory disclosure by clergy of confidential confessions of child abuse or other heinous crimes.

    Should the law no longer protect from disclosure confessions to lawyers or clergy of certain heinous crimes, like child abuse? Perhaps.

  9. DavidH,
    While you may be correct, recent cases, and recent work I have done for Mormon Women Project, have shown me that often someone else reports the abuse to the bishop, at which time the bishop calls the offender into his office to confess.

    While I am concerned here about the law, the Church is free to make a policy that their bishops will report regardless.

  10. “If there’s anything we’ve learned through the ages, it is that sex offenders don’t give up their crimes easily.” This is actually a false stereotype perpetuated by the media and Oprah. Sex offenders have lower rates of recidivism that almost any other class of offender. Taken as a whole, sex offenders are remarkably less likely to reoffend than property or violent criminals. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsorp94.pdf

  11. DrewBear says:

    I have a question in relation to mandatory report laws and I wonder if any of you could answer it.

    Some professions and professional certifications require that those holding them be mandatory reporters (mine is one of them) my wife and I are involved in our state’s foster care program which also requires me to be a mandatory reporter. In the LDS Church with our Lay clergy, what happens when someone who, by profession or who otherwise is a mandatory reporter, is called to be a Bishop, especially in a state where the clergy does not have to report?

    I would personally, morally, and professionally feel obligated to report, but what does the law say in such a case?

  12. DrewBear,
    I can tell you what happen in Idaho a few months back. A police officer (member of the Church) had been abusing children for a very long time. Eventually, he went to church court. One of the high councilman, a fellow police officer, was asked not to come because he would have to report if he heard what was said.

    Thanks for participating. I’m a bit skeptical that there are reliable statistics on recidivism, so I’ll take that with a grain of salt.

  13. Spencer L. Jensen says:

    There is no place for secrecy among the sacred, any more than calling that which is sacred secret.

  14. mmiles,
    Re #’s 10 & 12, and since I know jack squat about this area of crime or law, I would like to know what your basis is for the idea of common recidivism. I ask that in a curious tone–not a “prove it” tone.

  15. Thank you, mmiles. And amen.

  16. Scott,
    I’m not an expert. I can’t pull out any useful statistics. I remember learning in college crazy things like the average sex offender abuses 25-100 children before they are caught. This sounds a bit over-the-top to me.

    I took a class once on sexual abuse at the U. We had a panel of offenders come in and talk to the class. The professor then went over the traits of offenders and pointed out which ones most likely would and wouldn’t offend. There was only one on the panel of the group he thought was low risk.

    It’s also my experience working with children and seeing their case files that the people that hurt them hurt other kids too. This all adds up to antecdotal evidence. I am certain people can change, and don’t doubt that many sex offenders can and will change. In the best case scenario they deserve the benefit of the doubt and every opportunity for rehabilitation.

    But that doesn’t mean keeping confessed sex crimes secret.

  17. Thanks–I was just curious. I think that, without knowing anything more, I would probably assume a high rate of recidivism, but when I read RP’s comment above, it occurred to me that I actually had no real reason for assuming that.

  18. “This all adds up to antecdotal evidence.”
    If you at all curious, I would suggest that you just glance at the report that I posted. It is not anecdotal, and it is the consensus view of people who study recidivism for a living. (Criminiology is my field, and I teach courses on this stuff as well.) The claim that the average sex offender abuses 100 children (and the many variations I’ve seen on this claim) are established by counting every child depicted in a pornographic image on the arestee’s computer as a victim. So I guess, in this instance, it depends on how you want to define an abuse victim.

  19. RP,
    I did look at it. It was interesting. I can agree with you offenders don’t have the highest of recidivism to move the discussion along. That is besides the point. It shouldn’t be left to clergy to lean on offenders to confess. Sex crimes are too heinous to be left to statistics and averages. The human risk is too great.

  20. RP,
    I think you should re-read the recidivism study you linked. Granted, I have not had time to read all of it, but what I did read on pp. 7-8 indicates that sex offenders are MORE (not less) likely to reactivate with another sex crime, but less likely to committ any type of crime than non-sex offenders.

  21. mmiles – I will agree with you when it comes to certain sex crimes (i.e. the rape of a prepubescent child). But sex crimes, much like other kinds of crime, vary widely in their seriousness. Laws vary widely too. In some states, if a 30 year old has consensual sexual relations with a 16 year old, that person is guilty of a felony and will spend the rest of his or her life on a sex offender registry. In other states this is not illegal at all. Anyway, I guess a recurrent theme in our point-counterpoint thus far is that clearly defining terms is important.

  22. Sonny – more likely to recidivate with a sex crime, but far less likely to recidivate overall. They appear to be the most amenable to rehabilitation, but those who do reoffend seem to be somewhat more specialized than other criminals. Anyway, I don’t want to come off like a sex offender apologist, because I’m not. However, I think that the sex offender hysteria that grips our society is sometimes harmful, and is not always rooted in fact.

  23. As I’ve blogged before, the only way that the perpetrators have any hope of repentance is if they turn themselves over to the civil authorities. Any other course is denial of the depth of the sin and harms them.

    The guilty party’s only hope is to fully face what they have done and the only way they can do that is through complete confession.

  24. wondering says:

    “Sex offenders” is a broad category that contains much more than just pedophiles who sexually abuse children. I think talking about the two categories as if they are the same thing will lead to much confusion. If, say, a 25 year old man sleeps with a 16 year old girl (or boy), that might be a sex crime, but it is also entirely different than pedophilia, and we might well expect “recidivism” rates to be quite different.

  25. “As I’ve blogged before, the only way that the perpetrators have any hope of repentance is if they turn themselves over to the civil authorities.”
    First off, would you say this is true for all crimes? Or certain types of crime? Also, suppose I live in Nebraska, and I’m 30, and I have consensual sex with a 16 year old (which, we would all agree, is a grevious sin). From your perspective, part of my repentence involves turning myself in, going to prison, and being a registered sex offender. In the District of Columbia, however, there’s no crime to confess, so I’m forgiven without legal consequences. I’m not saying I disagree with you, but the issue is far more complex than you make it seem.

  26. ” I think that the sex offender hysteria that grips our society is sometimes harmful, and is not always rooted in fact.”

    I agree. However your ascertation and comment #24’s that a 25-30 year old having sex with a 16 year old is not a problem, is a problem.

  27. #25,
    Um, yes, they should still turn themselves in. It should still be reported. Also, it should be against the law in DC.

  28. It might be a problem, but it is perfectly legal in many states, including Utah, where if a juvenile is between 16 and 18, he or she can consent to sexual relations with someone less than 10 years older than him/her.

  29. I’m biased toward the 3 year rule.

  30. For the sake of this discussion, let’s suppose if it’s illegal in that state, it gets reported–setting aside the laws of other states.

  31. re #30 – Given those parameters, I’d say that any significant sexual contact between an adult and a prepubescent child should absolutely be reported. In the case of a 25 year old and a 17 year old, I’d let the bishop use his discretion. In my mind those two crimes are different in kind, not degree.

  32. When I was in high school, back in the dark ages, one of our coaches had a senior in high school as his girlfriend. She became pregnant. He married her. He kept his job, and went on to become the head football coach at that school for many years. Girls were more expendable then, perhaps? It was always seen as a good outcome if the man who made a girl pregnant married her, even when he was grossly irresponsible or otherwise unsuitable marriage material. She was damaged goods, the licked cupcake, or whatever, and the best she could hope for is that the original damager of the goods would pay for her and carry her out of the store.

    No point to this, just pointing out how much things have changed since the 70s. I wonder what happened to that family and if they made a success of their marriage or not.

  33. Not to be a jerk, but a quick internet search will turn up the ages of several of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

  34. Pedophilia has a very high repeat rate…very high. There is a definite reason why the church can forgive, rebaptize or whatever but still never allow that person to work with youth again. This is not an issue of I just struggle a bit, it’s a fundamental mental flaw of seeing children as an option sexually..and being willing to exert manipulative power over them.

    It’s tue that the 30-17 thing might be less likely to repeat…but I absolutely agree that in any activity of this kind the damage is so lasting, statistics aren’t always helpful.

  35. RP — once we get out of those who compulsively abuse children we are stepping out of the area that society treats under this rubric.

    However, First off, would you say this is true for all crimes? generally I’d say yes. The problem with I’d let the bishop use his discretion. is that everyone is fine with that until they disagree.

  36. RP,
    Now you’re just trolling.

  37. There are two types of abuse: abuse of a minor and abuse of an adult. They have somewhat different dynamics.

    Although the law must set a concrete age to demarcate between the two, psychologically, the difference is whether or not the victim has the ability to consent and the understanding necessary to refuse consent. Generally speaking, the main difference is that those without the ability or knowledge to consent (such as in the case of minors or the elderly) are already fertile ground for the abuser to work. Most of the time, adult abuse victims have been first infantilized and made to believe they have no feasible way to refuse consent. Most of the time, they are right.

    People don’t generally understand the dynamics of abuse. Most of us can’t afford to understand those dynamics, because the seeds of abuse are present in everyone. We don’t want to acknowledge that our own inclinations are the same as abusers’ and the only difference is how far we are actually willing to go.

    Abuse is when one person creates a pattern of behavior that forces control over another. (Many marriages exhibit this pattern.) I, personally, believe it is one of the most grievous sins because it undermines one of God’s most sacred principles: that of agency. Most crimes involve some element of agency being undermined, but it is particularly disgusting when that agency is undermined before a person (child) even knows they have it.

    As lessonNumberOne says, every abuser is willing to exert power or control over another person. It is more addictive than any drug. Once a person crosses that line to become an abuser, it is almost impossible to change (short of the Atonement actually effecting change).

    From what I understand, most child sex abusers choose children because they can more easily exert control. They don’t have to worry about what the other person will do, or have to work as hard to make them pliable. It’s generally rooted in deep emotional self-worth issues. They prey on the weak because they are weak. Adult abusers prey on the strong because they are weak, and think that by destroying someone who is strong, they prove their own strength.

  38. I agree with Stephen: the repentant sinner must confess not only to his bishop but to legal authorities. Bishops should not be shy about requiring that from those who confess.

    It is easy for me to understand mmiles’ view in the OP and to be sympathetic. Thank goodness for that bishop’s counselor in the OP.

  39. My wife was the victim of abuse as a small child. Once she told her Dad he called the police and walked over to the perps house to make sure he did not leave town. The perp was then arrested and charged and went to prison. In all the stories I have heard about that day not single mention of calling the bishop right away rather then the cops.

    I once lived in a ward where a man came into the Bishops office and confessed that he was abusing children. The Bishop called the cops and let them handle it. Later he told me that he was not interested in the guy’s confession, would not put himself at legal risk by dealing with him whatsoever, and wanted the perp out of circulation pronto. If I remember right he even had a couple of burly counselors who stuffed the perp into a car and drove him to the police station that night.

    Essentially I believe in calling the cops ASAP.

  40. Meldrum says:

    I am nauseated that a Bishop can hide his reluctance to report criminal acts behind the cloak of clerical confidentiality. Beyond what is written into law, a Bishop or any other minister has a moral obligation to the victim, and other victims past and future, that far exceeds his moral obligations to the perpetrator. This is especially valid if the crime is likely to happen again. These clerical privileges will be terminated if they are abused and I think we are at that point.

    If you looked closely at the law you might discover that it does not give the clergy the blanket protection that many here suppose. Also, I would contend that it is in the best interest of the perpetrator to get caught sooner than later, before he adds further to his eternal damnation. If he is only extracting consensual acts, that can escalate to physical violence and possibly even murder.

    So who benefits when the Bishops keep silent? Victims? He11 no. Perpetrators? Not really. Only the fleeting institutional image of the church. This effort to perpetuate the lie that we LDS people are so holy that we are free of these plagues is damnable. It is going to eventually backfire on us, if it hasn’t already.

    As long as we wander this dreary world, we are never going to be entirely free of these horrendous crimes. But it is far past time for LDS Bishops to think they are somehow above the law and that they can deal with this problem in sacred secrecy. I propose that any Bishop who commits a criminal act such as not reporting sexual abuse to the police should suffer the following consequences: Excommunication, financial responsibility for the law suits and/or the therapy of the victims, criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice, public shaming with perhaps an article in the church news. Then they should be turned over to the Danites for flogging.

    One other reason to quickly report this abuse: it protects the perpetrators from physical retribution at the hands of angry relatives of the victims. Many years ago an older teenage boy from the big city back east stayed in a small Mormon town with his cousins for the summer. He nabbed and raped a 10 year old girl after little sisters had gone skinny dipping with older brothers. The perp’s uncle was the Bishop and told the family of the victim that he would take care of it. Friends of the older brothers of the victim took the city boy hunting when he returned unpunished for another visit that fall. They tied him up and beat him. They cut off his fingers and toes the first night, castrated him during the second, cut out his tongue during the third, and put out his eyes during the fourth. He died from exposure after a couple weeks of torture. His remains were scattered and consumed by the wolves. He was reported missing and never found. But since that awful autumn many boy scouts who have camped in these mountains report seeing his ghost or hearing his hideous cries for mercy. Ok, so that was a campfire story, but my dad told me that it is based on an actual event and includes “more truth than bullshit.”

    We need to send a message loud and clear; No tolerance for this wickedness. Some say we are sending that message. I am not hearing it because actions (or inactions) speak louder than media spin and vague words spoken in conference talks.

  41. Meldrum,

    In all fairness, I don’t think bishops or other leaders keep confessions secret to protect the image of the church. I think they really believe they are helping the person back into the fold and helping him/her overcome sins. This is misguided, but there is no hidden agenda. Good people don’t realize the message keeping such confesssions secret sends, or understand that it isn’t helping the offender or the victim.

  42. Eric Russell says:

    Meldrum, there’s a case to be made for clerical confidentiality. If it’s universally known that confessing to the church is functionally equivalent to turning oneself into authorities, no one is going to confess. A policy of mandatory reporting potentially harms the victims of future crimes which go entirely undiscovered.

  43. I would add to #42: Unless handbook I has changed substantially in its latest printing, bishops should also report such behavior to their stake presidents, and should inform the confessing member that they are doing so.

  44. Eric Russell,

    I see no evidence that confessing moves the perpetrator towards turning him/herself in. As recent cases have shown, it’s been quite the opposite. Secrecy isn’t helping anyone. What is the point of the confessional?

  45. Anyone know what the handbook says about mandatory reporting? I understand that those who are serving in Primary, Sunday School, Seminary, and other areas where children are frequent are considered mandatory reporters in the state I live in. Only the Bishop is excluded because it is presumed that confessions given have already passed the statue of limitations.

  46. I agree with Eric in 42 that there is a case to be made for clerical confidentiality, and I think the example from Idaho mmiles cited above belies her contention in 44 that there is “no evidence that confessing moves the perpetrator towards turning him/herself in.” In that case, it was a fellow church member who knew about the council that convinced the offender to confess to authorities. It seems doubtful to me that the offender would have confessed but for the council and the counsel he received–both informally and formally–from it.

    See here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2010/12/12/1452198/deputies-questioned-lds-leaders.html

  47. “What is the point of the confessional?”

    Are you seriously asking that? The point is repentance, obviously. The only way to repent of major sins is to confess them and forsake them. The repentance process for some sins may include paying a civil penalty such as jail time, or restitution to the victim, of course. But the idea of confidentiality is important to getting people to come forward initially. There are some cases where that confidentiality cannot be maintained, and major crimes are in that category, in my opinion, but let’s not pretend that confidentiality is not an important part of the process.

  48. “Only the Bishop is excluded because it is presumed that confessions given have already passed the statue of limitations.”

    That is not the reason.

    Bishops are excluded because of the nature of the confessional. It’s a privileged communication, like communication with an attorney.

  49. Eric Russell says:

    “What is the point of the confessional?”

    I’m not sure I understand the question. People feel comfortable being open with a therpist/cleric when they know that there’s confidentiality. They become willing to talk about things they would otherwise not talk about and otherwise leave entirely unreported. If a therpist/cleric can help even one person out of ten report themselves who would otherwise remain entirely unreported, then it’s a net good.

  50. Nick Literski says:

    I remember learning in college crazy things like the average sex offender abuses 25-100 children before they are caught. This sounds a bit over-the-top to me.

    Yes, it does sound “a bit over-the-top.” It also brings to mind a similar claim that I read just yesterday. A Minnesota pastor, Bradlee Dean, has been pushing for a state constitutional amendment against marriage equality. In doing so, he has publicly claimed that the “average” gay man molests 117 children before being caught. He doesn’t say “average pedophile,” or even “average gay pedophile,” but actually claims this “average” applies to all gay men, who are evidently inherent pedophiles by his definition.

    It’s not my intention to threadjack (nor to defend pedophiles!), but I think this is a good example of just how groundless such statistical claims can be.

  51. Eric Russell and MCQ,

    I was asking the question rhetorically. The confession is on the road to repentance, but I am not convinced that confessing sex crimes against children without the authorities finding out shows any kind of willingness to repent and be held accountable for actions.

    The man was already excommunicated and people had known about it for months before he turned himself in. It appears he turned himself in after someone who was obligated by law to report put two and two together and talked to him.


    People don’t seem to understand that child molesters aren’t prone to stop just because they told a bishop. The guy could have confessed and continued molesting children in those months.

    Nick Literski,
    It’s also a good example of how you turn every discussion into something about gay rights.

  52. #49,
    Therapists are required by law to report. It’s not confidential.

    Again, I don’t see good evidence that confessing and keeping it a secret encourages confession of sex crimes which then leads to legal action. Supposing it does for one person, it does not negate the damage done by all the others that are held in confidence.

  53. It’s also a good example of how you turn every discussion into something about gay rights.

    Par for the Bloggernacle-course, though…

  54. Rather than hop in on the pedophile discussion (whether they are repeat offenders or not), I will agree with you: sacred should not be confused with secrecy. The pain that victims experience far exceeds a Bishop’s place to bring the offender back into the fold.

  55. #52 – I think a big part of it is the mindset of the person hearing the confession.

    At the spectrum extremes, does that person believe in the restitution and punishment aspects of repentance and forgiveness and actively encourage the confessor to confess not just privately (including to legal authorities) – or does that person believe in forgiveness through confession alone? Does the hearer of the confession believe that it is in their power to offer forgiveness, no matter the actions taken by the confessor outside of confession?

    I believe in mandatory reporting, especially in cases like the sexual abuse of children – but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand and am not sympathetic toward those who believe in the universal confidentiality of confession. I get the slippery slope argument and beileve there is merit to it; I just think some things are so heinous that they must be reported in all cases.

  56. “The pain that victims experience far exceeds a Bishop’s place to bring the offender back into the fold.”

    No, it doesn’t. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and I know of a few cases that weren’t. I believe the perpetrator must accept punishment in order to have any chance of being forgiven, but I just can’t agree with the quote above as worded.

  57. Naismith says:

    “What is wrong with parents that they don’t call the police straight away when they learn that their child has been abused or assaulted?!?!”

    It is never that simple.

    First of all, if it is a young child, you really may be unsure about what exactly went on. Is it just a matter of language, or what? And since the abuser is likely to be someone who is known, you don’t want to hurt that person’s reputation if it is a matter of miscommunication (which sometimes it is…there is a naive and upsetting incident along those lines in Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter”).

    Second, there may be justified fears about having the child taken away from your custody, or being forced to go through grueling investigative procedures. I sent my child to the grandparents for a few weeks while this was all being sorted out. But a lot of families go through absolute hell with this, a sense of being raped again.

  58. Mark B. says:

    As long as you’re trashing the priest-penitent privilege, why not push the attorney-client privilege off the cliff as well?

    There’s no question that those two privileges stop persons who learn of criminal behavior from reporting that information to the police. Is there any reason to believe that abolishing the privileges would not simply result in an end to open communication between penitents and their confessors or between clients and their attorneys? Why would an offender seek spiritual counseling if he knew that everything he said would immediately make its way to the prosecutor?

    But then those of you who are not bishops, and never will be, but who are quite comfortable in accusing bishops of covering up crime and acting solely to shield the church while ignoring the plight of the victims of crime would not have to trouble yourselves making those accusations.

  59. Is there any reason to believe that abolishing the privileges would not simply result in an end to open communication between penitents and their confessors or between clients and their attorneys?

    Does it matter? (regarding clergy) I’m just not convinced pedophiles not seeking open communication with their bishop for fear of being turned in is a problem. The end result legally appears to be the same whether they tell their bishop or not.

  60. Nick Literski says:

    It’s also a good example of how you turn every discussion into something about gay rights.

    Not true, and not particularly relevant, mmiles. In fact, you’re the only person who seems to have tried to go there. All the other literate folks on here understood that it was merely an example to illustrate how we should be suspicious of outlandish statistical claims.

  61. ErinAnn says:

    Re: #57 — I would rather risk offending someone (and being wrong) than fail my child by not believing them or putting them at further risk. My husband and I decided when our first was very small that erring on the side of caution would always be our choice.

  62. Michael G. says:

    #61 – It’s not a matter of simply offending someone. An accusation like this can absolutely destroy a person even if it turns out to be untrue.

  63. mmiles, I don’t think very many people would argue that a bishop shouldn’t report child molesters. A child molester obviously has something wrong with her that she’s having a hard time controlling or is inadequately motivated to control, and society shouldn’t have to bear that burden.

    But the same argument could be extended to any crime, be it manslaughter, theft, or disorderly conduct. Why should any of that be kept secret? Why should Target have to put up with the risk that Sis. So-and-so is going to shoplift again? In fact, you could extend that same argument to things which are sins, but not illegal. Why shouldn’t the bishop tell Bro. So-and-so’s wife about his porn habits? After all, it’s affecting her life too.

    The question becomes whether there is any circumstance in which a priest-penitent privilege is an advantage. Can any illegal activity be repented of without paying society’s price? Can any sin be repented of without confessing to those who may be circumstantially affected? If the answer to those questions is No, then I don’t think there’s a lot of point to the priest-penitent privilege. If the answer is Yes,
    then it becomes very tricky to know where to draw the line.

    If a child molester is cleary over the line, then what about a man hiring an 18-year-old prostitute? Or a man hiring a 17-year-old prostitute who he thought was 18? The first guy would get a misdemeanor. The second guy becomes a felon and sex offender for life. And they’re basically the same guy.

  64. Julie M. Smith says:

    “But then those of you who are not bishops, and never will be, but who are quite comfortable in accusing bishops of covering up crime and acting solely to shield the church while ignoring the plight of the victims of crime would not have to trouble yourselves making those accusations.”

    Please give me some way to read this as anything other than a slam against women in general.

  65. Eric Russell says:

    For what it’s worth, I agree that the severity of putting an immediate end to known cases of child abuse justifies the break in client/patient confidentiality. My point in joining the conversation was simply to point out that it’s not an easy issue. There’s a strong case to be made on either side here and people aren’t bad for desiring to maintain patient confidentiality, assuming, of course, that they’re working within the bounds of state laws.

  66. Ray: I appreciate your disagreement. You are right, bringing a perpetrator back into the fold while supporting a grieving victim should not be mutually exclusive. Let me rephrase. I know of many instances when a Bishop or other priesthood leader specifically told a victim or their parent to ignore what happened. In this case, the Bishop chose the perpetrator’s standing in the church over the victim’s suffering. In all these cases, the victim felt they had done something wrong.

    Rather than criticize the Bishop’s decision, I want to bring this back to my main point: there is a difference between acknowledging AND helping a victim and bringing a perpetrator back into the fold (through sincere repentance). Having family members who have fit both bills–the victim and the perpetrator–I do understand the need for a Bishop’s or other priesthood leader’s Divine guidance in helping the perpetrator see what they did is wrong. But not reporting a grievous offense to the police based on that premise does more hurt than harm. It can also deny a person full repentance with the 4th step to repentance: rectify problems caused by sin(s). (http://lds.about.com/od/basicsgospelprinciples/a/bb_repentance2.htm).

  67. I am sensing the possibility of a nuclear meltdown in this thread if we don’t all remind ourselves of the importance of being sensitive to the very personal and painful subject matter we’re dealing with here. No one has stepped over the line much here, but let’s just keep things cool.

  68. Naismith says:

    “I would rather risk offending someone (and being wrong) than fail my child by not believing them or putting them at further risk. My husband and I decided when our first was very small that erring on the side of caution would always be our choice.”

    Well, I’ll just go kill myself now and give you my children to raise since you are clearly so much a better parent than I am.

    First, I wasn’t failing my child or putting them at further risk by waiting to make a formal report. During the time that we were sorting things out (my husband was out of town and I wanted him there when we dealt with the civil officials), my child never left my sight and was not in the presence of the perpetrator ever again.

    If the church authorities had not handled things well (it was reported to civil authorities within hours of our report to them), we would have of course gone to civil authorities ourselves.

    And for the record, when the crime *was* reported to the authorities they did basically NOTHING. When they talked to us (a few days later), they told us that because there was no physical damage to the child–he wanted oral sex not penetrative vaginal sex that left physical evidence–the most that would happen was a few weeks in juvenile detention, and nothing permanent on his record. They ended up not even prosecuting due to the lack of evidence, and told us how fortunate we were to have the church, which required therapy for him and for our child, and for the perpetrator to do all that work to pay for it all.

    When he was brought back into full fellowship, we knew that he had payed a price for what he done.

    But I am sure that you would have handled it so much better. I am very sorry that I posted on this and let the world know what a terrible parent that I am.

  69. Anon for This says:

    Case in point about reporting child abuse: my ex reported to me that my daughter told him my (very occasional) babysitter’s husband made her touch him inappropriately. It was at a time when my ex was trying very hard to create contact with me. He even videotaped her while he forced her confession, something which would have likely blown the entire case out of the water even if it was real.

    So, I reported it to CPS in context (that it was something he told me she said.) They made note of it, but decided not to follow up on it and told me that if he took the accusations seriously, he should report it himself, which I relayed to him. Strangely enough, he never stirred himself to report it.

    I did, however, keep the videotape of him bullying my daughter just in case it is ever needed.

    But if I had been less trained as a social worker’s daughter, I could have easily ruined this man all because my ex wanted me to talk to him and/or make it difficult for me to find someone to watch my children besides him.

  70. The other Brother Jones says:

    I haven’t read al the comments yet, but….
    I think a couple of critical points that I have not yet seen discussed are:
    1) Does the law ‘allow’ clergy an option to not call the cops, or does it ‘require’ them to not make the call. I know that the laws are different in various states, also.

    2) What is/was the purpose for clergy to keep confidences. Does it still aplpy? This smacks of the Hunchback and Gypsy seeking sanctuary in the cathedral. Tho in that case it was as a protection from the unjust state.

  71. #66 – Amber, I really appreciate that clarification – and I agree with the entire comment.

  72. Oh, and there is a huge difference between a minister reporting allegations and reporting details from a confession made by a perpetrator. Allegations should be reported by the one making them, not by a minister hearing about them.

  73. Ray,
    So if a child tells his/her Bishop about abuse at the hands of his/her parents–the Bishop shouldn’t report?

  74. Here is the Utah law:

    “(2) Subject to Subsection (3), the notification requirements of Subsection (1) do not apply to a clergyman or priest, without the consent of the person making the confession, with regard to any confession made to the clergyman or priest in the professional character of the clergyman or priest in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which the clergyman or priest belongs, if:
    (a) the confession was made directly to the clergyman or priest by the perpetrator; and
    (b) the clergyman or priest is, under canon law or church doctrine or practice, bound to maintain the confidentiality of that confession.
    (3) (a) When a clergyman or priest receives information about abuse or neglect from any source other than confession of the perpetrator, the clergyman or priest is required to give notification on the basis of that information even though the clergyman or priest may have also received a report of abuse or neglect from the confession of the perpetrator.
    (b) Exemption of notification requirements for a clergyman or priest does not exempt a clergyman or priest from any other efforts required by law to prevent further abuse or neglect by the perpetrator. “

  75. MCQ,
    So in accordance with part 1:B, it is up to churches to decide what their policy is in regards to confidentiality–correct?

  76. In other words, the clergyman is exempted from the requirement of reporting. The law doesn’t require him NOT to report, it just exempts him from the requirement that would otherwise compel him to report.

    In addition to this, there is an evidentiary privilege which would treat as confidential and privileged any communication between a clergyman and a parishoner in the context of confession. That privilege applies to evidence to be presented at trial, and would prevent a bishop from testifying against an accused at trial, if his testimony would reveal information disclosed during a confession. As a practical matter, that evidence would be hearsay anyway, and would only be allowed in under a hearsay exception, which in this case is nullified by the privilege.

  77. mmiles:

    I think you’re referring to subsection (2) (b), which says that the clergyman is exempted if:

    “the clergyman or priest is, under canon law or church doctrine or practice, bound to maintain the confidentiality of that confession.”

    I think that is talking about church doctrine or practice toward confession as a whole. Though I suppose church doctrine or practice could make an exception for certain kinds of confessions. The short answer to your question is yes.

  78. Anon for this time says:

    Consider this- allegations were made against a scout leader in our ward by two nonmember participants in our LDS scouting unit. As bishop, I was unable to contact the nonmember scouts, whose parents decided they wanted nothing to do with the LDS Church anymore. The report was made to the police by the alleged victims parents. I heard about it from another scout leader just before I got a call from the detective assigned to sexual abuse cases.

    I had to confront the accused scout leader, who denied any wrong doing. He was someone that was a bit naive in some ways, and odd in some others, and so when I heard the accusation, I was concerned that it might have some small truth. The reported violations had to do with fondling, a lesser but still awful act if true.

    I brought in the families of the scouts in our ward, one family at a time. I spoke to the parents about the accusation and got their permission to talk to their sons. Then I tried to ask in the most general terms I could, without naming names. “Has anyone at school, or church, or scouts ever touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?” I tried to keep the language general, and didn’t name names.

    None of the other scouts said that they had seen or been the object of this kind of stuff. The police finally dropped the case due to both the workload involved, inconsistencies with the testimony of the two accusers, and lack of any other evidence. However it disturbed me to the point that we released the scout leader, giving him the explanation that during the investigation, he could not be serving with youth of any kind. I discussed this a lot with the Stake President, and also with the detective. The net result was that no formal charges were ever filed, but as bishop, I could not in good conscience allow him to resume serving in scouting during the rest of my tenure as bishop. I don’t think anything bad happened, but I could never shake the feeling that this individual may have had some hidden issues that he was trying to suppress.

    I didn’t have to ever deal with a privileged communication issue, but I don’t for a moment think that if he had confessed, that I would have hesitated to first tell him to turn himself in, or if he wouldn’t, I would tell the police.

    It was a chilling experience. When I called the abuse hotline in Salt Lake, they gave mostly good advice, but hinted also that the church’s attorneys would defend the church, but not necessarily me as bishop if I got sued by anyone relating to this case. I had to counsel with this leader several times regarding how he conducted himself in public with kids. It was hard, but I could not allow him to be hugging other peoples kids at church activities, or to be touching them in any way. I didn’t want him to get into more trouble. I also wanted to make sure he was not in a position where he might make others who knew about the allegations uncomfortable.

    I am still in the same ward with this man. Even without a formal accusation, his life was changed in significant ways. I am afraid sometimes that I was overly cautious, watching him too close, but I could not have lived with myself if something else were to have happened due to inaction on my part.

    I cannot claim that there was any revelation involved. I only know that his mannerisms and actions left him open to accusations, and I could not rid myself of some anxieties over this situation. Whenever I thought about this man, I could not shake a sense of fear and uncertainty. I spoke often with my Stake President during the next few years, and he never second guessed my actions.

    Probably 10 years have passed. This man now serves as a temple worker, and I don’t have any of those feelings of foreboding that I used to. If this man had a problem that he had not acted out, I don’t believe he does anymore. We are friendly, but not close friends. I don’t think he blames me for losing his scout calling. I will never know for sure if there was a problem, but I tried to act with the kids welfare as a first concern. I would understand if he thought I had not acted fairly, but he became to me a secondary concern. There are no good resolutions to a situation like this, but I can sleep at night knowing that I tried to act as I would have wanted someone to act if I thought my kids were at risk.

  79. Mark A. Clifford says:

    I can tell you what I would do.
    If (pray not) I am ever called as a Bishop, I will inform my congregation that I will not cover them for crimes committed against people, particularly not abuse of spouse or children.
    I will call the authorities the same day.
    I would prefer to be removed from my position, disfellowshipped, or excommunicated rather than hold that knowledge without protecting harmed others.
    That is that.

  80. Subsection (1), which I did not paste, is the reporting requirement that applies to anyone else. I pasted sunsections (2) and (3) which apply to clergymen in this situation.

  81. Mark A. Clifford, please inform your church leaders of your intention not to follow church policy now, so they don’t make the serious mistake of ever calling you to any position of responsibilty.

  82. ErinAnn says:

    Naismith, settle down. I was originally responding to the post, and then I was talking about people who *don’t* call the authorities. Clearly you’re not in that group.

  83. We lived in a ward with 3 sex offenders attending at the same time. All had to be shadowed whenever at church, my husband was a home teacher to one of them.

    Due to the problems in our area there was a special meeting held in the ward about protecting the children, families and keeping the building secure.
    I thought the leadership did about as good as a job they could have given the situation.

    I can, however, see how leadership response depends on the area and those holding the calling. I am sure some individual’s experiences are better than others in dealing with a situation like this.

  84. *Please excuse my grammar, I didn’t check very closely before hitting the post button.

  85. #73 – Yeah, my statement was overly-broad.

    In the case of children, obviously they can’t be expected to report to legal authorities without support if they already have reported to someone they trust. If the allegations are about parents, that adds a whole different layer. That report needs to be from a willing adult. However, I wouldn’t fault a Bishop in the slightest if he referred the situation to a social worker or someone else with expertise and didn’t call the police directly himself.

    Much of how a Bishop should respond also would depend on the actual allegations, imo. I’m not going to get graphic here, but different actions would require different reactions, imo.

    I know it’s a different scenario, but Bishops also deal with marital tensions – and those situations sometimes include false allegations by one spouse about the other, some of which can be quite serious. A Bishop can’t become known as someone who will report every allegation automatically to the police, or someone with an ax to grind could use that as a way to punish someone else – especially if the allegation essentially was unprovable.

    Again, allegations are a totally different issue than comfessions – and we can’t treat them as the same thing.

  86. “When a clergyman or priest receives information about abuse or neglect from any source other than confession of the perpetrator, the clergyman or priest is required to give notification on the basis of that information even though the clergyman or priest may have also received a report of abuse or neglect from the confession of the perpetrator.”

    Not much wiggle room there, Ray. At least in Utah, if it’s not a confession, you have to report. You don’t get to make a judgment call. Those are made by the police and prosecutors.

  87. Interestingly, the scenario in the first paragraph of the OP is not a confession, but an allegation of abuse by the victim’s mother, if I’m reading the post correctly. I don’t know what the law was then, but now it would be required to be reported, no matter who received that call, at least in Utah.

    In the case of a confession, it appears the policy of the Church is to try to get the confessor to go to the police themselves, while also keeping close watch on the perpetrator, removing them from certain (or probably all) callings, and keeping them away from potential victims. If the Church goes further than that and reports confessions to the authorities, that will probably put an end to confessions, even those that don’t involve abuse. The word would get around that confessions aren’t confidential.

  88. The other Brother Jones says:

    Re #86:
    I like this exception. This way if a clergyman can get the victim to talk, then he gets info aside from the confession and can report. This can be a useful loophole.

    This may get a little tricky if the victim and perp are not in the same ward.
    In any case, if it were me I would encourage the victim and his/her parents to go to the autorities, and I would offer to go with them. It would probably be better for the image of the church if the reporting was not done BY the church directly, but it got reported very quickly, with the support of the church .

  89. MCQ,
    I think that’s overstating things. So the Bishop reports a sex offender and then the guy who drunk a beer is afraid to confess? Seriously?

  90. Naismith says:

    “I was originally responding to the post, and then I was talking about people who *don’t* call the authorities.”

    That may have been what you MEANT, but what you said was, “What is wrong with parents that they don’t call the police straight away when they learn that their child has been abused or assaulted?!?!”

    I absolutely was one of those parents who did not call the police straight away.

    And since the police turned out to be just this side of useless, I am glad we did things the way we did. As “wrong” as that may seem to you.

  91. Yelnats says:

    In 35 years as a teacher and union officer I have seen it all. I wish decisions about reporting were all simple as some would like. They often are not.

    I personally had to report a fellow teacher for making illicit propositions to a 13 year old student and an 18 year old Senior for having relations with an 11 year old Junior High girl. Easy calls.

    Here are some of the hard calls that one of my compatriots had to make. Though rare, they can create tremendous moral and legal difficulties.
    1. We have no idea why, but CPS would not deal with the parental sexual abuse of a child. The elder sister had full ride scholarship to USC, but would not leave home in order to protect her younger sister. A Counselor had a way to get the young daughter to a good home that was not quite legal, but it would allow the older sister to go off to college. Should the counselor simply do her duty and report the charges for a third time or take an “unorthodox course?”
    2. In the 1980’s a young Afghanistani refugee was being sexually abused by a distant member of the family. She asked the counselor for help, noting that if this became public her life could be in danger from her own family. Again the counselor had a choice of reporting it or using an unorthodox” solution involving a visit by several friendly members of the constabulary, who would then have an hypothetical discussion of consequences with the abuser. What choice was best?

  92. Yelnats,
    I imagine there are exceptions to every rule. However it seems the rule should still be that reporting to police, not CPS, is the first order.

  93. Mark Brown says:

    There are already six states which do not recognize clergy privilege in cases of the sexual abuse of children. Bishops are required to report to civil authorities immediately. I doubt that bishops in those stated have noticed a decrease in the number of people needing to confess sin.

    From a practical standpoint, put yourself in the position of a bishop. A member comes to you and confesses a transgression which is clearly also a crime. The member expresses a desire to repent, and you tell him that part of the process will be submission to the laws of the state, and sooner or later the cops will need to know about it. At this point, what do you do? If the person didn’t accept that, I would question the sincerity of his penance, and I would wonder why he confessed in the first place.

    It seems clear to me that after the first visit to the bishop, the member should understand very clearly that submitting to the civil law is a non-negotiable requirement, and the sooner the better. There must be absolutely no expectation that the crime could be kept secret.

  94. Naismith says:

    Our umbrella insurance policy has a rider to protect us in case of issues with volunteer work. Yes, it is a sad thing that such coverage would be needed, but any church leader, including scoutmaster, might think about whether they need it.

  95. StillConfused says:

    Thank you for posting this. My little sister was repeatedly raped by her Bishop when she was just 14 years old. The damage to her is horrific. It was really hard to learn that he was a repeat offender. If someone had been stronger with him earlier, my sister may have been saved.

  96. “I think that’s overstating things. So the Bishop reports a sex offender and then the guy who drunk a beer is afraid to confess? Seriously?”

    mmiles, I don’t exactly agree with MCQ, but from my perspective, I can’t see any sin requiring confession to a bishop that doesn’t significantly affect someone else. Hence my #63.

    The only people I think of who’d feel it necessary to confess drinking a beer to the bishop would be the youth. Shouldn’t the bishop tell the parents before they get killed from driving under the influence?

    I’d say you’re effectively arguing that priest-penitent privilege should be abolished altogether.

  97. Martin,
    I most certainly am not. See #93.

  98. ErinAnn says:

    My limited experience with taking problems to bishops has left me not really trusting the process. Spiritual problems can stay with my spiritual leaders, but anything that there is a professional for (like lawyers, police and therapists) I would much rather have handled by those professionals.

    Honestly, these men serving as bishops are generally good guys. I can’t imagine the stress they must feel when someone begins dumping problems in their lap. I’ve mispoken plenty in my life (as my original comment has obviously come across poorly to Naismith) but I have never had my personal judgement shape the path of anyone (outside of my family) with any kind of real authority. It’s a messy, messy world out there.

  99. ErinAnn says:

    “It seems clear to me that after the first visit to the bishop, the member should understand very clearly that submitting to the civil law is a non-negotiable requirement, and the sooner the better. There must be absolutely no expectation that the crime could be kept secret.”

    I heartily agree with this, btw.

  100. I don’t. The fact is, there is an expectation of privacy and in the vast majority of jurisdictions, it is still the policy of the Church to strictly honor it.

    Encouraging the penitent to self-report is one thing, and that is already being done. Going to the authorities, in the absence of of a legal requirement to do so, is another thing entirely, and carries consequences far beyond each individual case.

    If the Church changes to a policy of reporting information gained in confessions, where does it draw the line? With just sex abuse? Any crime involving children? Any violent crime? any crime of any sort? I don’t see how you draw that lie and maintain it with any sort of consistency while still maintaining the confidentiality of confessions in general. As we can see with the Utah law, any Church policy that allows reporting of any confessions could very well destroy the privilege for all confessions. Is that really what we want?

  101. MCQ,
    Drama aside, we seem to have no problem now drawing lines and making policies about all sorts of things. I don’t see how drawing a line that yes, any crime involving children, or any violent crime should be reported, is going to be a drastic downward spiral in regards to private Bishops interviews.

    If that destroyed private confessions (because what legal authorities want to hear about run-of-the-mill adultrey and fornication?), IMO it’d be worth it to save some kids. I’m having a hard time understanding why it’s more important to have everyday sins protected (which I am certain still would be-and should be) over and above real threats to children.

  102. Reading through all these comments, especially the legal ones (thanks, MCQ) really makes me wonder how my life would have been different if the bishop had followed what I now see is the requirement to report evidence of abuse. To be fair, I doubt he recognized that it was abusive, though. It would be nice if all members of the Church were educated on the signs of abuse.

    When I was pregnant with my first, my ex believed I was cheating on him and got angry enough to break some things and rage. At one point, he yelled at me to leave the house and came at me, at which point I ran outside (barefoot and about five months pregnant). I got about 200 feet or so down the middle of the street before I realized I had nowhere to go. I hesitated in the street, sobbing, and he came out . . . gentle, now . . . and asked me to come back in. I was still panicking, but I obeyed him. We ended up calling the bishop, who sent some temp home teachers over to the house to defuse the situation.

    With 20/20 hindsight, I can see now that this was “evidence of abuse” that had nothing to do with a confessional, and, as authority figures, they technically were required by law to report it.

    I don’t know if I wish they had, or am glad they didn’t, but it does make me wonder . . . what if they had? Could my marriage had been saved if the authorities had gotten involved sooner, if my ex had been required to go through abuse counseling at that point, rather than three years later after he did put his hands on me in anger?

    And, most importantly . . . what about all those women whose husbands don’t have the respect for authority that mine did? What about all those who are hospitalized before they get help?

  103. Crimes should be reported to the legal authorities, not to a Bishop only – or even to a Bishop first, in most cases. Making allegations to a Bishop and not to legal authorities, and putting the resonsibility to report to the legal authorities on the Bishop, is totally unfair to the Bishop.

    There are exceptions, like the one of children being abused by a parent who tell their Bishop but can’t tell anyone else, but making allegations to a Bishop and not to the legal authorities is a remnant of a time when the clergy were tied so closely to the State that they were, in a real way, the legal authorities. That’s not the case now, so members need to stop taking charges and allegations of crimes to the Bishop and start taking them to the police.

  104. SilverRain,
    I’m sorry for your situation. However no one could have reported that kind of abuse and had anything happen legally but you. Again, I’m sorry you went through that.

  105. britt k says:

    78 is very interesting and clearly represents just how grey issues can be.

    My short experience as a mandatory reporter involved workign in the school system and seeing a 5yo come in repeatedly with evidence of abuse (the most obvious being strange bruises around his stomach, throwing up and a phone call home with the answer of “he fell into the coffee table, he’s not sick so don’t send him home”) We all took turns calling CPS, the police…he was still in his home the year I worked there. He was starting to act out to the other children…in a way that made us all very wary that there was sexual abuse in the home. I have no clue what was going on with the police or CPS.

    We have this idea that a child will clearly identify the abuse and abuser, we can call the police and the abuser will be removed…

    My husband, in his last job was threatened by a supervisor that the guy would accuse him of innappropriate relations with the student (same supervisor was making this same threat to MANY teachers). As a teacher that kind of thing could mean end of the line career wise..even if he was cleared of all charges, depending on how things went down. The supervisor had a lot of friends in the town in his pocket. Husband was exceedingly careful – beyond his normal precautions and the state and district standards just to make sure that there could never even be a part of a time that could be questioned.

  106. In my experience, many bishops are woefully ill-prepared to deal with these situations. As expressed in other posts they seem torn by how they understand their responsibilities toward both victim and perpetrator. In our case the bishop chose to ignore a sexual assault – and the young man entered the MTC just weeks later. Follow-up with the bishop, stake president and mission president were equally frustrating. Apparently some still believe that “boys will be boys” and that serving a mission will take care of everything. Sadly it will not “take care of” our daughters mistrust of church leadership and her disappearing faith.

  107. We had a child abuse situation arise in our ward but it was learned about only after the young man who had abused younger men had gone on a mission, returned “honorably” and was married in the temple. His wife discovered his true desires and although the bishop at the time counseled the families whose sons had been his victims to “forgive and forget”, they did not and he is now serving time.
    When I learned my son may have been one of his targets, I was astonished and angered that the bishop at the time could have the nerve to tell those families to forgive and forget.
    On another note, there is the clergy rule as discussed at some length in this discussion, but given Christ’s own judgment as to those who would offend children one would think the Church would instruct that in the case of child abuse, disclosure to law authorities is the higher duty.

  108. mmiles—Firstly, I’m not in that situation any more, so don’t worry about me. ;)

    From what I understand, though nothing may have happened legally at the time they made the report, there would have been a record created of the report. I have found that an impartial record of abuse over time is essential in prosecuting and convicting abusers. But too many people think as you do, that the woman has to report. Unfortunately for me and for most women, victims don’t realize they are being abused until it is too late to make a report on their own. Victims of spousal or elderly abuse are children in their own way: manufactured children by the abuser. They have to be told they have a right to report, they have to be told that they shouldn’t be treated that way.

    At the time, I thought his anger was justified in light of his suspicions.

    And according to what MCQ posted about the law, in acting in the capacity of members of the clergy they have a legal requirement to report what they witnessed. Just like clergy members have a legal requirement to report the bruises they see on children if they suspect child abuse. THAT I did not know. I suspect most of our lay clergy members don’t know that either.

  109. SilverRain,
    Thanks for clarifying.

  110. #106 and #107 bring up a common attitude that has always really frustrated me: “just-get-him-on-a-mission-and-everything-will-be-OK.”
    Perhaps this would be a good post of its own.

  111. #107 — if that is what the bishop said (and I have no reason to doubt you, though I wish it weren’t so), he was wrong, of course. Our personal forgiveness of transgressors should not shield the transgressors from the consequences of their actions, including legal prosecution. Those consequences are an essential part of the transgressor’s repentance.

  112. Just to add to #111 – We tend to think we have the right / responsibility to forgive people who have done no harm to us personally – and that kind of “easy forgiveness” can be extremely damaging to those who actually have been harmed. “Why can’t you forgive him? I have,” is, in practical terms, just a reminder that the victim isn’t as worthy / righteous / Christlike / etc. as the person who was not victimized.

    That’s a terrible burden to carry on top of the actual abuse, and we need to realize how badly mistaken that view of forgiveness is. I can try to understand and sympathize with someone who has committed a sin or crime [and the victim(s) of those actions], but it is not my place to presume I can forgive that person if I have not been hurt personally by the sin or crime. Forgiveness is in the hands of God and the people who have been harmed, and inserting ourselves into that process only muddies and complicated it.

  113. mmiles, I’m still missing something that’s apparently obvious.

    If a bishop should be required to report a child molester to the police, it’s because A) the molester is likely to re-offend, B) justice demands it, C) the molested can’t heal until the offense is dealt with. If A), then you’re saying the bishop shouldn’t be deciding the likelihood of re-offense. If B) you’re saying civil justice preempts ecclesiastical justice. If C), you’re saying the needs of the offended outweigh the needs of the penitent.

    Those are all fine arguments, but they apply to any crime, so I’d guess if you’re saying even if you do support priest-penitent privilege in general, you don’t for child molestation because it’s so serious. But other crimes can be serious as well (just ask a elderly couple whose savings have been defrauded from them). You’d probably say the priest-penitent privilege should be dropped in those cases as well.

    But how do you establish a level of seriousness? And why should a bishop be trusted to make the decision in the other cases but not with sex offenders?

    Sex offenses vary dramatically in degrees of seriousness, just as any other crime, and there’s going to be judgments made somewhere. A groper can become a convicted felon and sex offender for life, or he can become the governor of California for eight years, simply based on whether a prosecutor chooses to pursue it.

    All I’m saying is that your argument to take that decision out of the hands of the bishop and putting into the hands of public opinion or civil authorities simply means you trust them more than you do priests/bishops (and I don’t mean this as an accusation — the track record across denominations hasn’t been good).

    So why do you claim you support priest-penitent privilege?

  114. Martin, why does reporting to the police take anything “out of the hands of the bishop”? Presumably, even if the guy is in jail, the Bishop can (and should) still minister to him. You continually make these either-or assumptions, see also “you’re saying civil justice preempts ecclesiastical justice.” Why does it “preempt”? Why can’t it be in addition to?

  115. I should have included female pronouns for the offender, not just male.

  116. “All I’m saying is that your argument to take that decision out of the hands of the bishop and putting into the hands of public opinion or civil authorities simply means you trust them more than you do priests/bishops”

    Perhaps it is because I believe in obeying the law. Yes, I trust civil authorities to make laws and enforce them more than church leaders–because that is their job!!! As Mormons, we believe we are subject to laws, we aren’t above it. It is not the job of the bishops or any other church leaders to decide:
    1. If a law is just.
    2. Whether or not the offender’s punishment is just.

    So in short, both A and B are correct. C-not so much. But the needs of the victim are not less important, and certainly healing can take place without punishment to the perpetrator. I’m disturbed you think the needs of the perpetrator outweigh the damage done to victims.

    If you think sexual abuse of a child is no more significant than fraud, I don’t know what to say. It goes back to the OP. You just think, “It’s_not_that_bad.”

  117. “you’re saying civil justice preempts ecclesiastical justice.” Why does it “preempt”?

    Because regardless what a bishop decides about anything else, he must first turn the penitent over to civil authorities. Sure, he can potentially still work with the person, but reporting is preeminent.

    “You continually make these either-or assumptions”

    I try to only do that when they’re mutually exclusive.

  118. #116 – fwiw, the last few sentences really are a mis-representation of what Marting actually wrote. I agree with the rest of your comment, but the ending really isn’t fair to Martin.

  119. I agree with every part of what Ray said about the different parts of 116.

  120. Ray,
    How so? He compares the seriousness of fraud to the seriousness of sex abuse.

  121. mmiles, I’m not getting it either. Your #101 is either willfully blind or ingedibly naive. You say there is no problem drawing lines, but you fail to even try to draw one. I assume it’s all the same to you whether bishops report some crimes or all of them but it’s of critical importance to the people who are confessing. You seem to value confidentiality not at all, or at least not much in comparison with “saving kids” but you fail to show why that is such an obvious dichotomy to you. We can have confidentiality and protect children too, I believe. there’s no reason to destroy confidentiality in toto. You are really throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.

  122. “If you think sexual abuse of a child is no more significant than fraud, I don’t know what to say. It goes back to the OP. You just think, “It’s_not_that_bad.””

    Oh good grief. I give up.

  123. The actual quote is:

    “If you think sexual abuse of a child is no more significant than fraud, I don’t know what to say. It goes back to the OP. You just think, “It’s_not_that_bad.”

    What Martin said is:

    “But other crimes can be serious as well (just ask a elderly couple whose savings have been defrauded from them). ”

    Your criticsm doesn’t match what he said.

  124. Also, sexual abuse is devastating to a child – or anyone.

    Losing everything you’ve worked all your life for through fraud is devastating to an elderly couple.

    Thus, Martin’s actual words are 100% correct, since he says NOTHING about which one is “more significant” than the other in isolation. He just said they both are “serious”.

  125. MCQ-
    You seemed convinced I have a secret agenda to banish clergy confidentiality. I don’t. As Mark Brown explained in #93, in some states that line is already drawn. Why not simply adopt the same line as church policy?

    I do see a dichotomy with a policy to keeping sex crime confessions secret as opposed to saving kids, because I have seen time after time, after time-when the crime is not reported, and the perpetrator has often gone one to do more harm. I have yet to see once when a secret confession lead to the person turning him/herself in.

  126. Ray,
    This post is not about disclosing “serious” crimes. This post is about disclosing sex crimes against children. Full stop. Comparing other serious crimes that aren’t remotely the same is ridiculous. If Martin thought they were so different on a seriousness scale, he wouldn’t have brought it up.

  127. I also am done. Bye.

  128. “you’re saying civil justice preempts ecclesiastical justice.” Why does it “preempt”?”

    Because regardless what a bishop decides about anything else, he must first turn the penitent over to civil authorities. Sure, he can potentially still work with the person, but reporting is preeminent.

    But isn’t the “else” exactly what a Bishop should be deciding? Bishops are judges in Israel, not civil judges. They are in charge of our spiritual lives. That’s why I don’t understand your mutually exclusive arguments at all. What kind of decisions of the Bishop are being “taken out” of the Bishop’s hands that were in his hands to begin with? Length of jail terms?–never in his hands. Disposition of temple recommended?–still in his hands not taken out.

  129. mmiles, just to try and get the bad taste out of my mouth, my only objective was to see if you had an argument to defend priest-penitent privilege, since you were adamant you weren’t speaking against it. From a victim’s perspective, I can’t see how ppp ever makes sense, yet you wouldn’t speak against it directly. I was trying to find out why not. If you did support ppp (and I don’t think you do), I’d have been interested to know what crimes you felt a bishop could be justified in covering up.

    I’m not sure how I ended up getting “You just think, “It’s_not_that_bad.”” As a white, upper-middle-class, priesthood-privileged male, (you know, the demographic from which the perpetrators and obfuscating authorities are known to come), I can’t tell you how offensive that is. I thought I’d made it pretty clear in my first comment that I thought bishops ought to be required to report child molesters.

    Cynthia, I’m sorry, I’m just not into that argument. I was just trying to frame my question in a way to get mmiles to answer, that’s all. I clearly failed.

  130. Let’s just everyone step away from the keyboard here, mmmkay?

  131. By the way, I’m not expecting answer any more, I just wanted you to know where I was coming from.

  132. Steve Evans says:

    Martin, without really following the conversation, I can tell you that you are in way, way over your head here and you should find a way to graciously turn tail and run.

  133. That last comment came off way more snide than was intended or felt. Apologies. I think it turned out that way when I tried to make a long comment terse.

  134. Martin,
    My sincere apologizes for misreading your intent. I understand now, thanks for your patience.

    My original intent with the OP was the position that, other crimes aside, sex crimes should be reported. Perhaps other crimes are more complicated, but my gut reaction would be that most should be reported.

    If there is ever a need to turn to the law in my life, I would go to the police and use the justice system accordingly. I trust that the 3 branches of government generally work, and they are there to do their best for my welfare as a citizen. However I wouldn’t turn to law enforcement, judge or jury, to help me with my spiritual welfare.

    If I go to counsel with my Bishop, I do so for my spiritual welfare. He has been trusted with that charge by the Church and by God. In general that system works. But just like I would not turn to civic leaders and employees for my spiritual welfare because it’s not their job, I wouldn’t turn to the Bishop in criminal matters. It isn’t his job.

    In short, if a bishop is presented with something outside his capacity as spiritual leader, people that are paid and trained to do sometimes complicated jobs should be given that responsibility.

    These are complicated matters with sometimes intense feelings. I think this discussion ran its course. Thanks for your participation.

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