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Despite what church says, law doesn't absolve it of responsibility in sexual abuse case
Court, citing Arizona law on confidentiality, dismisses lawsuit by victims
It was one of the most horrific cases of child abuse imaginable:
Paul Adams began sexually abusing a daughter during the first decade of the 2000s. In 2010, he confessed his abusive behavior to John Herrod, who was bishop of his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation in Bisbee, Ariz. Relying on a church attorney’s advice regarding Arizona law, Herrod never told authorities. (In the LDS church, bishops are unpaid male members who have a role similar to a pastor’s.)
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And the abuse continued.
For seven years.
During that time, Adams begin sexually abusing a second daughter.
Starting when she was six weeks old.
And he posted videos of his daughter’s abuse on the Internet.
During all that time, Herrod said nothing about Adams’s confession to those who might have had power to stop the abuse. He did tell a church attorney, Merrill F. Nelson, who later became a Utah legislator. He did tell Robert “Kim” Mauzy, who succeeded him as bishop. But none of them told authorities.1
The abuse didn’t stop until 2017. One of the videos was seen in New Zealand and was reported to local authorities who contacted Interpol, which began an international search for the girls. Eventually, the girls were identified, and Homeland Security agents arrested Adams. (Adams died by suicide in custody before he could face a trial.)
In other words, total strangers did more to protect the girls than did church leaders who had knowledge given to them by the perpetrator.
And videos of the abuse are still available on the Internet for perverts to watch.
Not reporting the abuse was wrong. Period. Full stop.
But that didn’t prevent a PR statement from the church recently expressing pleasure at a Nov. 3 ruling by an Arizona court dismissing a lawsuit filed by the abuse victims:
We are pleased with the Arizona Superior Court’s decision granting summary judgment for the church and its clergy and dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. Contrary to some news reports and exaggerated allegations, the court found that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its clergy handled this matter consistent with Arizona law.
In other words, the church insists, following the law is enough to absolve its leaders from moral responsibility.
But law has never set the standard for what’s right and wrong, only the standard for when the government should get involved. And church leaders should know that: In all sorts of situations, they continue to condemn all sorts of activities even when they’re legal, among them same-sex romantic relationships and marijuana use.
There’s no question that there is a value in confidentiality in situations where people have done wrong and discuss their conduct with religious leaders or secular counselors in the hope of personal reform. And in most cases, that confidentiality is and should be protected by law. But when children, often the most vulnerable among us, are the victims of abhorrent conduct, the value of confidentially is overridden by their welfare. No child should continue be the victim of abuse, sexual or otherwise, when a church leader knows about it and has the power to stop it.
The victims’ lawyer is promising to appeal in an effort to get compensation for the victims. Regardless of what the courts ultimately decide, the church on its own initiative should provide them with that much along with an apology and a commitment to ensure that such a moral lapse will never happen again.
According to various accounts, Herrod has stated that he was told he was not allowed to file a police report. But if that is the case, his understanding wasn’t based on Arizona law. While laws in 33 states, including Arizona, exempt pastors, priests and those in similar church positions from laws that require others — usually professionals such as doctors and teachers, but in some cases anybody — from reporting child abuse when they became aware of it, there is not a single state that tells them they can’t make a report voluntarily.