Aug 19, 2022 - News

Judge says Mormon church can't withhold information in abuse case

The spires of the Salt Lake City temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The spires of the historic Salt Lake Temple are shown on April 2, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

A judge in Arizona ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can't withhold information in a sex abuse lawsuit under the state's "clergy-penitent privilege."

Driving the news: The man, who died in 2017, posted footage of himself abusing his daughters and bragged about it online, so he effectively waived his own confidentiality, the judge ruled.

  • The ruling doesn't decide whether church officials were obligated to report the man despite religious exemptions in the state's abuse-reporting requirement.

Catch up fast: The church has been under scrutiny since an AP exposé this month showed it used its 24-7 hotline to stop bishops from reporting a confessed child rapist to police in Arizona.

  • The man's bishop said church officials told him he could "absolutely do nothing" because state law required him to keep the man's confession confidential.

State of play: The church on Wednesday again lashed out at the AP's coverage of the Arizona case, claiming "egregious errors in reporting."

  • But the church still does not refute details about how its abuse "helpline" directed bishops to not report child abusers and records of abuse reports were destroyed.

What they're saying: The church's latest statement argues that the man made only a "limited confession" in 2011, so neither the church nor the bishop knew "the full extent of the abuse."

  • But the AP reported that in a recorded interview with law enforcement, the bishop said he asked the man's wife whether the abuse was ongoing and asked, "What are we going to do to stop it?"
  • Court documents obtained by Axios also show an investigator said the bishop acknowledged the abuse had occurred "numerous times."

The other side: The church and its defenders argue church attorneys use the helpline to instruct bishops to "comply with whatever recording is required by law."

Yes, but: Arizona law allows clergy to keep confessions of child abuse confidential, but does not require it.

  • It also immunizes those who report from prosecution and lawsuits.

Of note: Vandalism appeared this week on church buildings in Sandy and Draper, with the messages "Save the kids" and "Predators welcome," FOX13 reported.

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