Shining a Light on Abuse in the Mormon Church
On September 11, 2018 MormonLeaks published a leaked document from Kirton McConkie, the outside legal counsel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church. This document is a “special investigations and projects report” that lists outstanding legal cases that would negatively impact the church’s image.
All of the cases have an initial investigation date spanning over two months — August to October 2012. There are seven cases listed on the document, only one is not sexual in nature. Some of the cases describe accusations that have not been confirmed.
Several of the cases in the document stand out almost immediately. One missionary was accused of molesting an eight-year-old child. He was sent home without formal discipline from the church, his local leadership when he arrived home also declined to take action.
Another missionary confessed to molesting a girl during his mission to a foreign country. The legal team noted that they contacted the local legal counsel. The missionary was sent home and was almost certainly disciplined by the church, but out of reach of the laws of the foreign nation.
The last case on the report details a missionary that engaged in the exchange of sexually explicit texts and photos with a 15-year-old girl before his mission. He would have been 19 at the time he left for his mission, the document does not make clear how old he was at the time or how long before his mission it occurred. Worse, the fact that he also confessed to “kissing and some touching with a 15 year old girl in the mission field” seems to be more of a footnote.
This last case is not more egregious than the others in the conduct (they’re all abhorrent) but in the clear involvement of church leadership to cover it up. The document notes that the missionary department — this is not his local leadership but the office at church headquarters — is “reluctant” to send the young man home because he might face felony prosecution based on the laws where he resides. The document specifically notes that his stake president (local ecclesiastical authority presiding over six to ten congregations) has a duty to report based on local laws. The apparent solution was to note that the missionary “needs to go home” and ask for direction.
This is not to suggest that the church is responsible for the actions of people that commit sexual assault while in their employ. Every large organization has to deal with this at some point. The people committing the crimes should be held accountable.
The problem the church now faces is the systematic cover-up of anything, including sexual abuse, that would harm the church’s image. One would certainly hope that the average member would be appalled at the coddling of abusers in these cases.
The church has a process for disciplining members that do not live in accordance with their teachings. These “disciplinary councils”, the formal process, are used to carry out that discipline. The results may be no action taken, disfellowshipment, or excommunication.
The stated reasons for disciplinary action are “ to save the souls of transgressors, protect the innocent, and safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church.”
People around the world were dismayed, angered, and ashamed of the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse cases by their own priests. The abuse is awful, the cover-up is just as bad. Rather than a safe space, a sanctuary from the world, the church becomes an accomplice.
The church is reaching a fork in the road. Will they continue to protect abusers from legal recourse, or will they stand with victims of abuse? It is not enough to simply excommunicate offenders where they can abuse again. It is beyond comprehension to send missionaries home to avoid prosecution, or to avoid sending them home for the same reason.
It is time for the church to acknowledge, apologize for, and condemn the actions of their leaders that have enabled this culture of abuse to continue. Statements condemning abuse are not enough. Donating a few thousand dollars to charities fighting abuse is not enough.
When the church requires all abuse to be reported to proper authorities and ends the practice of non-disclosure agreements with victims, it will be a safer organization.