SALT LAKE CITY — An investigation by the Associated Press claims an abuse help line used by lay leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was used to cover up a case of sexual abuse.
“The Church says that it does not tolerate abuse and I quoted their official statement in my story, saying they don’t tolerate abuse. But in the Arizona case of Paul Adams and his two daughters, they clearly tolerated the abuse,” said Mike Rezendes, an investigative journalist with the Associated Press.
Rezendes reported on a family in Bisbee, Arizona, where a father confessed to his bishop that he had been sexually abusing his daughter.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they have a policy that if the church leader hears an allegation or gets any information about child sex abuse, or potential child sex abuse, their first move ought to be what they call 'the help line,'" Rezendes said. "And so this bishop abided by the church policy, he called the help line, and he says that attorneys who he talked through the help line advised him that he could not report the allegation that Paul Adams was sexually abusing his daughter."
Rezendes added that after the father spoke to the Bishop the first time, the abuse continued for 7 years and included another baby daughter.
In a strongly worded response to the story, the church said Friday that the AP published an “oversimplified and incomplete” story about how the church handles sex abuse cases. The statement focused on how the church’s system ensures reporting compliance, and how members who are guilty of abuse face church discipline, including loss of church membership.
FOX 13 News reached out to the church to learn more about the helpline and what the church’s policies are, the church issued this statement:
"The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes this, teaches this, and dedicates tremendous resources and efforts to prevent, report and address abuse. Our hearts break for these children and all victims of abuse.
"The nature and the purpose of the Church’s help line was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article. The help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met. It provides a place for local leaders, who serve voluntarily, to receive direction from experts to determine who should make a report and whether they (local leaders) should play a role in that reporting. When a leader calls the help line, the conversation is about how to stop the abuse, care for the victim and ensure compliance with reporting obligations, even in cases when the law provides clergy-penitent privilege or restricts what can be shared from private ecclesiastical conversations.
"The help line is just one of many safeguards put in place by the Church. Any member serving in a role with children or youth is required to complete a training every few years about how to watch for, report and address abuse. Leaders and members are offered resources on how to prevent, address and report abuse of any kind. Church teachings and handbooks are clear and unequivocal about the evils of abuse. Members who violate those teachings are disciplined by the Church and may lose their privileges or membership. These are just a few examples.
"The story presented in the AP article is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts. We will continue to teach and follow Jesus Christ’s admonition to care for one another, especially in our efforts related to abuse."
In 2020, Utah State Rep. Angela Romero tried to pass a bill to make it mandatory for all religious leaders, not just those in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to report child abuse, but that bill didn’t pass.
“Anytime somebody goes to someone and there is an allegation of child sex abuse, I think there definitely needs to go through the right channels and reported to law enforcement and there be a criminal investigation," Romero said. "Child sex abuse is one of the most horrific crimes that one could do."
She added that she hopes to pass a similar bill in the next session, and she says she has received support from her Republican colleagues as well.
The father in Arizona was eventually arrested by federal authorities on child pornography charges. He died by suicide in prison while waiting for trial.