I may choose to ignore anonymous comments. I consider this type of anonymity dishonest. Also, I don't post regularly. I post when I have something worth writing and something worth reading. I explain all this in: Don't Let Telling Tales Trip Up Your Truthfulness.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Marci Hamilton, FindLaw and Her Inaccurate Assumptions

Marci Hamilton is "a FindLaw columnist", the "Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of relevant books on religion and child abuse.

She wrote a May 27, 2010 FindLaw article entitled, "A Reply to Von Keetch's Comments on Clergy Child Sex Abuse and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

I have no doubt Ms. Hamilton is an intelligent, capable professional and legal scholar. However, her article makes some implicit assumptions that need to be addressed. The Church's Chief Outside Legal Counsel responded to Ms. Hamilton's earlier article. Her most recent column is an answer to Von Keetch's response. She needs to consider his answers much more carefully. She has not fully grasped his answers to her. I will detail what she missed.

1. "Leadership" or "clergy" in the L.D.S. Church are simply regular Mormons who are serving temporarily as clergy for a limited time, usually about five years. They are not professional priests like in the Catholic Church. What this means is that in order to police its clergy, the Church has to police it's MEMBERSHIP. Any member may eventually be "clergy" at one time or another. Comparing Mormon clergy to Catholic clergy is comparing apples and oranges.

2. Since any Mormon can end up being clergy and any Mormon can end up being a child abuser, the Church has a system for tagging membership records. Since membership records are centrally controlled by Church headquarters in Salt Lake City this system works. Mr. Keech's comment about the LDS Church setting the "gold standard" undoubtedly refers to the fact that the LDS Church is the ONLY church that polices it's entire membership voluntarily.

3. Since Mormon "clergy" can be any member, extensive training and assistance needs to exist to help them deal with child abuse victims and abusers. Ms. Hamilton does not grasp the significance of the 24/7  "Hot Line" clergy has available to them to respond appropriately to the safety, emotional and legal responsibilities that exist when dealing with child abuse and child abusers. Subject experts are instantly available to all Mormon clergy to help them deal with the psychological issues as well as the legal requirements of the jurisdictions they live under.

4. The Church does not discourage reporting child abuse. Ms. Hamilton is not reading the Handbook correctly. She needs to focus on the phrase, "To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party" Clergy responsibilities are different based on whether the abuse occurred on Church grounds, at a Church event, by a Church official or whether it occurred in a private home amongst family members.

5. The Church has fought efforts to assign it unreasonable liability in child abuse cases. So have other Churchs. No Church should have to accept liability for a situation just because the child abuse perpetrator or victim happens to be a member of it.

6. Churches have also fought efforts to force them to be policing arms of the state. If the LDS Church was trying to escape reporting or liability it would not voluntarily police its own members.

7. Her comment, "have to sink their resources into laws that protect children" I find incredulous. Doing what she suggests would imperil tax-exempt status and move religions into the political sphere in a way Americans would find unacceptable. She cannot be serious.

8. She needs to make a distinction between how things are now and what they were years ago. No organization was as savvy and equipped to deal with child abuse issues twenty years ago as it is now. If she finds little or no progress, then that would strengthen her case.

Instead of relying on anecdotal evidence supplied by self-selected email correspondents, Ms. Hamilton ought to investigate matters more fully herself. She obviously misunderstands quite a lot. She may find a prior post of mine helpful.

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