When an Arizona bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church, learned that his ward members had sexually assaulted his 5-year-old daughter, he followed church policy and called Mormon abuse Helpline. Bishop later told law enforcement that the church lawyer, who serves the helpline around the clock in Salt Lake City, said he was legally obliged to respond to the abuse because he learned of the abuse during a counseling session, which the church viewed as a form of spiritual repentance. Conduct confidential.
U.S. Border Patrol employee Paul Douglas Adams, who lives in Bisbee, Arizona, with his wife and six children, continued to abuse his daughter for seven years and a second daughter. In 2017, he finally stopped without the help of the church, only because he was arrested.
The Associated Press obtained thousands of pages of sealed court documents detailing how the church’s “help line” diverted abuse complaints from law enforcement, putting children at risk.
Highlights of the AP investigation:
Privilege of the clergy to repent
Seven years of secrecy in the Adams case began when church attorneys in Salt Lake City suggested to Bishop John Herold and later Bishop Robert “Kim” Mozzi that they, due to the law’s so-called clergy, were compelled to report child abuse in the state. Act exempt from reporting requirements – the privilege of confession.
“There is absolutely nothing you can do about it,” said Herold, who was told in an interview with federal investigators.
Arizona’s Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Act, and similar laws in more than 20 states, obligate clergy, doctors, nurses, or anyone caring for a child who “reasonably believes” the child has been abused or neglected to report information to the police or the state Ministry of Child Safety. But it also said that a cleric who received information about child neglect or sexual abuse during a spiritual confession “may refuse” authorities to provide that information if the clergy deems it “reasonable and necessary” based on church teachings.
An Arizona attorney defending the bishop and the church in a lawsuit brought by Adams’ three children told The Associated Press that Herold and Mozzi — and by extension the church — are within the law and in accordance with their Act on “religious principles”. ”
“These bishops did nothing wrong. They didn’t break the law and therefore are not responsible,” said William Marton. He also called the Adams Children’s lawsuit a “money grab.”
The Associated Press has obtained nearly 12,000 pages of sealed records from an unrelated child sex abuse lawsuit against the Mormon Church in West Virginia, showing that the helpline is part of a system easily abused by church leaders to deflect allegations of abuse against the church Members turned away from law enforcement and turned to church lawyers, who could cover up problems and leave victims harmed.
It was established in 1995 at a time when legal charges against church sexual abuse were on the rise.
Officials at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a sworn statement in the sealed records that the helpline staff are social workers who destroy records of all calls at the end of each day.
When social workers receive calls about abuse that may pose a risk to the church — such as abuse by prominent church members, abuse committed at church events, or particularly serious incidents of abuse — the calls will be forwarded to Salt Lake City Law Firm Kirton McConkie. The church maintains that all calls to attorneys are protected by attorney-client privilege and that prosecutors or victims’ attorneys have no access to records of any charges.
“The Mormons did not set up the helpline to protect victims of sexual abuse and provide spiritual counseling … but to have (church) lawyers stifle complaints and protect Mormons from potentially costly lawsuits,” the lawsuit filed by Adams Children said.
Miranda and Matthew Whitworth adopted Adams’ young daughter when she was 2 years old. When they met, the toddler put his head on his arms and legs, buried his face in his neck, and refused to look up to say goodbye to his mother’s family, Miranda said.
“It’s the craziest thing,” Miranda Whitworth said. “It’s like when you see a baby monkey or baby orangutan clinging to their mother and they just don’t let go.”
The couple said they joined the lawsuit to push the church to change its policy to immediately report any child sexual abuse incidents to civil authorities. “We just don’t understand why they’re paying all these lawyers to fight this,” Matthew Whitworth said. “Just change the policy.
Nancy Salminen, a public school special needs teacher, adopted Adams’ eldest daughter MJ after she was 12 in foster care. Today, MJ is a bubbly 16-year-old who plays in her high school band and proudly wears a crisp new uniform for her job as a fast food restaurant.
“She failed for good reason and just folded up and ran away,” Salminen said. “But instead, she came back stronger than anyone I knew.”
Paul Adams committed suicide in prison before facing trial on federal child pornography charges and state child sex abuse charges.
Leza Adams did not contest two counts of child abuse and served two and a half years in state prison.
Judge Wallace Hoggart described the abuse suffered by MJ and her sister as “one of the most horrific cases of child molestation” he has ever encountered.
Today, a lawsuit filed by the Adams children in Cochise County Superior Court, as well as a criminal investigation by Cochise County prosecutors, continues.
“I just think Mormonism really sucks. Really sucks,” Jordan told The Associated Press. “From my experience and others’ experiences, they’re just the worst type.”
Associated Press editor Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and news researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.
To contact the Associated Press investigative team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AP’s religious coverage is supported through the AP’s partnership with American Dialogue, with funding from the Eli Lilly Foundation. The Associated Press is solely responsible for this content.