Dec 4, 2023 - News

Recordings reveal Mormon church response to sex abuse case

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In audio recordings linked to an Idaho child sex abuse case, the risk management director for the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints offered the alleged victim a $300,000 confidentiality agreement, the Associated Press reported late Sunday.

  • The recordings give an "unprecedented record of the steps the church normally takes behind closed doors to keep allegations of child sex abuse secret," the report states.

Details: In 2016, police in Mountain Home, Idaho, arrested a dentist and former Mormon church bishop — the title for lay clergy — after the man's adult daughter reported he had sexually abused her during her childhood.

  • The dentist's relatives told police they had previously taken him to confess to his church bishop, and he was excommunicated.
  • Shortly after the arrest, another woman accused the dentist of drugging and assaulting her.
  • But prosecutors dropped the daughter's case in mid-2017 and struck a plea deal in the drug case that eliminated sex crime charges. The man remains a practicing dentist.

What happened: The dentist's daughter and wife said prosecutors told them they'd have a case if the bishop would report the dentist's confession.

  • But the church discouraged the bishop from testifying, citing an Idaho law that exempts clergy from reporting crimes disclosed during religious confession.

Of note: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has joined other religious groups in supporting "clergy-penitent privilege," even though its own bishops have said such laws prevent them from reporting crimes.

  • The dentist's bishop told the AP: "If I say anything, [the dentist] can sue me for millions of dollars."
  • Powerful Mormon lawmakers and Catholic lobbying have stymied efforts to close the reporting loophole in Utah and Arizona, the AP previously reported.

The latest: An Arizona judge last month cited the privilege when he dismissed a high-profile lawsuit accusing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of failing to report a father who confessed to years of child abuse.

The intrigue: In a recording posted by the AP, the church's risk management director can be heard offering the Idaho dentist's family $300,000 to not sue the church or disclose the payment.

  • That recording was made by a fellow church member who attended the meetings to support the alleged victim and did not agree to confidentiality, the AP reports.

The other side: The church on Monday took the unusual step of responding directly to the AP on X, formerly Twitter.

  • "Only the perpetrator could release the bishop from his obligation under the clergy penitent privilege and he refused to do so," the statement reads in part.
  • In its statement to the AP, the church said, "The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable," and that the dentist, following his excommunication, "has not been readmitted to church membership."
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