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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Child Abuse Accusations Against the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church

Many news headlines regarding my Church recently have been focused on a lawsuit filed by individuals claiming the Church mishandled cases of child abuse as well as a story coming out of Missouri alleging extreme sexual abuse centered in a family. I know that the likelihood of legal cases like this being successful is small. The mere filing of these charges generate publicity, but publicity is rare when these cases are found to be without merit. And, many of these cases are without merit and get dismissed. I know this because I know what my Church does to prevent and handle child abuse allegations and I carefully follow the news. I'm going to quote liberally from a Church statement on the Newsroom. The quotes all come from this site.

Child abuse is considered a pernicious evil.
Gordon B. Hinckley, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, publicly denounced child abuse as a terrible evil. In the early 1980s, he captured our thoughts and feelings when he said in a worldwide conference broadcast: "I am glad that there is a growing public awareness of this insidious evil. The exploitation of children . . . for the satisfaction of sadistic desires is sin of the darkest hue."
The Church actively seeks to address the child abuse problem and train the lay clergy.
The Church has also developed extensive training materials and videotapes. These materials are used to train Church leaders on how to identify and respond to such abuse. A 24-hour Help Line staffed with professional counselors provides customized advice so local leaders can take appropriate action in each case.
Helping the victim is the first priority.
Helping the victim is of first concern. It is the very nature of Christians to reach out with compassion and love to those who are struggling with the agonies of abuse. It is integral to our ministry. Within the Church, victims can find spiritual guidance that eventually leads to healing through faith in Jesus Christ. Abuse victims are also offered professional counseling so they can benefit from the best of secular expertise, regardless of their ability to pay.
A Help Line for clergy is available 24/7, 365 days a year.
. . . a Help Line was established in 1995 to provide bishops with immediate access to professional counselors to guide them in protecting abuse victims. Bishops are good people, but it is impossible for them to understand all the complexities of child abuse, including the different legal requirements of different states. What they can do is call the Help Line phone number immediately when a child is in danger. With just one phone call, they can receive guidance from seasoned professionals.
Child abusers are denied access to children and youth.
Can child abusers who have paid the legal price for their crimes and gone through a rigorous repentance process with local Church leaders become members of the Church again? Yes. As Christians, we believe in forgiveness. But can they ever again, in their lifetime, serve in any capacity that would put them in direct contact with children? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove the consequences of sin. Protection of the family is a first principle of the Church.
Church membership records of child abusers are "tagged."
Since 1995 the Church has placed a confidential annotation on the membership record of members who previously abused children. These records follow them to any congregation where they move, thereby alerting bishops not to place them in situations with children. As far as we know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first religious institution to create such a tracking mechanism. We hold the family sacred and protect its children. This explains why the Church is one of the few denominations that imposes formal ecclesiastical discipline on mere members (as opposed to official clergy) for sexually abusive conduct.
The Church voluntarily tracks its members.
Our Church applies this tracking system because of our core beliefs. No court in the United States has held a religious institution responsible for failing to protect its members from abuse by other members. To do so would turn religious institutions into police instruments, its leadership into law enforcement officers. The Church voluntarily tracks its membership, not because of the law or fear of lawsuits, but out of its own concern for families and children.
The tracking is rarely removed and must be done by the First Presidency.
From the Church's Handbook of Instructions: 'The Church's position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse . . . are subject to Church discipline. They should not be given Church callings and may not have a temple recommend. Even if a person who abused a child sexually or physically receives Church discipline and is later restored to full fellowship or readmitted by baptism, leaders should not call the person to any position working with children or youth unless the First Presidency authorizes removal of the annotation of the person's membership record."
Most lawsuits concern abuse perpetrated years ago.
Many hundreds of child abuse cases are filed every year against churches in the United States. While even one case is too many, relatively few are filed against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — far below what one would expect based on its more than five million U.S. members. One of the reasons for this is the Church's aggressive effort to address the problem over the past 20 years. Most cases brought today involve abuse that allegedly occurred well before the Church implemented its present policies and training programs.
Lawsuits rarely accuse actual church leaders.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is almost never sued for abuse perpetrated by its bishops. Instead, cases brought against the Church typically involve one member who has abused another. Often, the alleged abuse did not even occur on Church property or in connection with any Church activity.

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