Aug 5, 2022 - News

Mormon sex abuse 'help line' discouraged police reports

Illustration of a rotary phone with a knot in the wire.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used its 24-7 sex abuse "help line" to stop bishops from reporting child rape, according to a report Thursday by the Associated Press.

Driving the news: An Arizona man abused his daughters for at least seven years. He confessed his abuse, but when his bishop called the church's hotline, church lawyers ordered him not to report the abuse to police, according to sealed court documents obtained by the AP.

  • The AP report is the most detailed look so far into how the church funnels sex abuse reports to its hotline and how those reports are handled.

Context: The church promotes its so-called help line as a tool to protect victims of abuse.

  • But it instructs its volunteer clergy to call the hotline "promptly" in every case of abuse — and bishops are not instructed to call police first, Vice has reported.
  • Victims for years have said the hotline was used to protect the church from lawsuits.

Details: The documents obtained by the AP show the church destroys records of help line calls to ensure they remain confidential.

  • The church also claims attorney-client privilege for all reports that are forwarded to its lawyers.
  • The hotline protocols include a section called "High Risk Cases," which instructs staffers to ask questions that deal with the legal risk to the church — such as whether a leader or employee committed the abuse, or whether it happened at "a church-sponsored activity."

The latest: Three of the children in the Arizona family are suing the church and their bishops.

The other side: A church lawyer called the children's lawsuit a "money grab."

  • One official said that if members thought their confessions could become public they wouldn't be willing to "confess and repent … for their souls to be saved."
  • Church attorneys argue the morality of keeping abuse secret is irrelevant because Arizona law "broadly exempts confidential communications with clergy" if "the clergyman himself" determines secrecy is religiously necessary.

Yes, but: The man's bishop said he did not decide by himself to keep the confession confidential, and the explanation he provided isn't religious.

  • Church officials told him — wrongly — that he could be sued if he reported the man to police.

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