'Culty as hell': Former Mormons unhappy with church's response to blockbuster child abuse investigation
Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Photo: Screen capture from concert video)

Incestuous Mormon child abuser Paul Adams killed himself before going to trial but his story of how he confessed to a Mormon bishop that Adams was repeatedly raping his 5-year-old daughter probably has hellish immortality. Adams was in counseling with Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Bishop John Herrod (also the Adams family doctor) in 2010 when he confessed. Herrod never alerted police or any Arizona governmental agency. Herrod obeyed church guidelines and phoned the LDS abuse hotline. Another Mormon bishop told Herrod to remain silent. Adams continued counseling and raping his children. He posted video of the sexual abuse on the dark web where Homeland Security saw it and arrested him in 2017.

An Associated Press investigation of how the Mormon church’s approach to child abusers spotlighted Adams and other horrific cases. But according to ex-Mormon abuse victims comforting each other on Facebook and Reddit, sexual assault on children and the church’s silence have happened for years and will happen again.

Twitter fires were fueled by this week’s defensive official response from the Church of Latter Day Saints.

“The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable,” the LDS statement reads. “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…The nature and the purpose of the Church’s helpline was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article…When a leader calls the helpline, 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 statement notes that LDS can punish members who sexually abuse children with excommunication which invoked waves of angry tweets including one from @mediocremumsy: “Mormons really be out there thinking that excommunication is adequate justice for sexual assault. That is culty as hell.”

Several ex-Mormons responded, noting that excommunication isn’t always permanent. As Libby Potter Boss @libbyboss tweeted, “a few years later the guy is quietly rebaptized and no one but the bishop is ever the wiser.”

The lengthy LDS statement is ambiguous on whether its officials are required to report child abuse to police or children’s protective services. On Twitter, @mormon_satan had the pithiest response.

“Today in church, I hope you good faithful Mormons stare your bishop down and tell him that you expect him to report cases of child abuse to the authorities.”

Clergy-penitent privilege allows clergy to keep some confessions secret. In movies, it’s a plot device, the stalwart priest or pastor who won’t divulge a murderer’s confession to police. Herrod claims he thought Adams confession was privileged under Arizona law. He was wrong.

Incredibly, some state laws are unclear on whether it’s mandatory for clergy to report child abuse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that “privileged communications may be exempt from the requirement to report suspected abuse or neglect.” The abused child’s fate, to a scary extent, can depend on a state’s law.

The Mormon Child Abuse Awareness Facebook page posts articles about Mormon child abuse victims from all over America and postings about personal experiences that date back for years.

“I had a friend reach out to me today, one of many friends who has reached out to me since I shared my story,” says a November 2020 post. “A family member was sexually abused by a member of the church. (He) confessed to the bishop who did not turn the perpetrator in to the police…What do you believe is the right advice to give? From my experience, a police report must be filed…The perpetrator needs this step just as much as the victim. Rehabilitation is not offered by repentance alone. The legal system is needed…otherwise “repentance/confession” is just an empty promise forgotten when the perpetrator moves to a new ward or bishop is replaced.”

One posting was about an April arrest of a Utah bishop who, as part of his counseling sessions with female LDS teenagers, showed them dick pix and nude photos of himself.

Apparently, he’s not the first to try this. Over on the Protect Every Child Facebook page, a mother wrote a 2019 post to her “dear Mormon friends” that said, “Until I was excommunicated, I was active (in LDS) too. I am still a believer in the teachings and example of Jesus. I also realize that each of you are mothers with children in or approaching the age of regular bishop interviews…and plan never to allow one-on-one interviews or sexually explicit questions. GOOD.FOR.YOU. There are some whose circumstances don't even allow them to speak up at all. That's OK. What YOU are doing is the VERY MOST IMPORTANT thing.”

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