Mormon church sex abuse: AP investigation | AP News

TW: sexual abuse, child pornography


This is not an easy article to read. I have included some less distressing bits from the piece in this post. Should you choose to click here and read the entire article, please do so with awareness. Please do not read this if your mental health cannot take it.


In summary, this investigative piece by the Associate Press which is considered a centralist view (neither predominantly left or right politically leaning) in their work. In summary, the article highlights a handful of horrific child sexual abuse cases wherein LDS leadership (predominantly bishops) refused to report the abuse, even when the law allowed or required them to do so. Further, the article addresses the bishop’s hotline as being a poor resource for these bishops as the caller is only identified by first name, so state law or any legal issues (such as if the state that they live in requires them to report the abuse to the police) cannot be addressed.


It is a shocking look at how wickedly and poorly children in the US church are protected by the church, and how well the policy can enable abusers.


Less distressing points from the article:


“Who’s really responsible for Herrod not disclosing?” McIntyre asked in an AP interview. “Is it Herrod,” who says he followed the church lawyers’ instruction not to report the abuse to authorities? “Or is it the people who gave him that advice?”



The lawsuit filed by three children accuses The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and several members, including Bishops ABC and XYZ, of negligence and conspiring to cover up child sex abuse to avoid “costly lawsuits” and protect the reputation of the church, which relies on proselytizing and tithing to attract new members and raise money.

“The failure to prevent or report abuse was part of the policy of the defendants, which was to block public disclosure to avoid scandals, to avoid the disclosure of their tolerance of child sexual molestation and assault, to preserve a false appearance of propriety, and to avoid investigation and action by public authority, including law enforcement,” the suit alleges. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe that such actions were motivated by a desire to protect the reputation of the defendants.”



Very few of the scores of lawsuits against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mention the help line, in part because details of its operations have been a closely guarded secret. The documents in the sealed court records show how it works.

“The help line is certainly there to help — to help the church keep its secrets and to cover up abuse,” said Craig Vernon, an Idaho attorney who has filed several sex abuse lawsuits against the church.

Vernon, a former member, routinely demands that the church require bishops to report sex abuse to police or state authorities rather than the help line.




The Protocol instructs those staffing the help line to tell callers they are to use first names only. “No identifying information should be given.” Under the heading “High Risk Cases,” it also instructs staffers to ask a series of questions, including whether calls concerned possible abuse by a church leader, an employee, or abuse at “a church-sponsored activity.”

The protocol advises those taking the calls to instruct a “priesthood leader,” which includes bishops and stake presidents, to encourage the perpetrator, the victim, or others who know of the abuse to report it. But it also says, in capital letters, that those taking the calls “should never advise a priesthood leader to report abuse. Counsel of this nature should come only from legal counsel.”


(my livid, indignant emphasis is added in bold)

“There is nothing inconsistent between identifying cases that may pose litigation risks to the church and complying with reporting obligations,” church lawyers said in a sealed legal filing.

But one affidavit in the sealed records which repeatedly says the church condemns child sexual abuse, also suggests the church is more concerned about the spiritual well-being of perpetrators than the physical and emotional well-being of young victims, who also may be members of the faith.



Bishop ABC, in his recorded interview, said church officials told him he had to keep what [the abuser] told him confidential or he could be sued if he went to authorities.



Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.


  1. This made me sick when I read the AP article this morning. I’ve had personal experiences that corroborate the things in the article, including the complete uselessness of the helpline. Do I trust the church to keep children safe? No. Not my children, not any children. There is so much I love about this church…and so much I tolerate because I believe the Savior will come again challenging our culture and beliefs every much as he did in his day.
    Buthow can I stay when so much real harm is being caused? .

  2. Thank you for laying out the main points of this AP article. And thank you for the trigger warning. Power protects itself. Power will always protect itself.

  3. This is such a disturbing story. My heart breaks for the children involved. Sadly, this is an example of the far-reaching fallout that patriarchy leaves in its wake. Would this have happened if the bishops had been women? Of course not! I don’t know for sure, but it’s my guess everyone in this horrific chain, bishops, help line operators, lawyers, was male. How can an organization (church) teach for centuries that men are to rule over their wives and children and expect this kind of thing won’t happen? How can you set up a church were men have final say in everything, where women are welcome to speak up “but not too much”, where faithful women are put under covenant to obey their husbands, where sixty year old men sit alone in rooms with 12 year old girls talking about private intimate things, where girls are taught by the highest leaders that they (girls) are “pornography for boys”, where girls are taught that they are responsible for boys’ immoral thoughts, how can you set a church up this way and think it’s all going to turn out wonderfully? And even more disturbing, how can you set a church up this way and proclaim it’s that way because that’s the way The Lord wants it? Here is the horrific irony of it all, the leaders in this Patriarchal Disorder teach that women are innately more caring, more spiritual, more intuitive, more compassionate, yet The Lord doesn’t want them in charge, doesn’t want them holding the priesthood, or blessing their children, or healing the sick, or leading/presiding as one with their husbands. How sad. How very very sad.

    • Thank you for that correction, Polly. I am grateful to learn this and will correctly identify this atrocity going forward.

  4. If I have read the chain of events correctly in that AP article, that abuser was excommunicated before he was ever caught and arrested. So, that means that counting his two bishops, the stake presidency, the high council, and the stake clerk, at least 18 men knew about this and never reported it to legal authorities. I have no words to describe how appalling that is.

    • That article is anything but balanced. I guess you could say, “Here’s a link to an article that defends the church, for anyone interested in that perspective.”

      I thought it was helpful to read the stated objectives of the help line (although if those are its objectives, it clearly failed to meet them in this case). It also seems to present the rationale for clergy exemptions to mandatory reporting laws from the perspective of those who support such exemptions, which could be useful for those wondering, “Why would this even be a thing?”

      However there are some serious issues with this defensive article. It points to a frivolous lawsuit in Oregon as evidence that some bishops are not allowed to report abuse, when in fact, clergy are mandatory reporters in Oregon:

      The most puzzling part of the article is when the author tries to argue that the church tried to stop the abuse by excommunicating the abuser, and then, almost in the same breath, claims that the abuser’s continued abuse for four years following the excommunication was not the church’s problem because he was no longer a member. So which is it? Is excommunication supposed to be a strategy to end abuse (albeit, clearly an ineffective one since the excommunication failed to stop an additional four years of abuse)? Or is excommunication a way to protect the church from liability by forcing abusers out so the church can claim itself blameless for the additional years of abuse they continue to perpetrate as nonmembers? And what of the woman and children in this family? They were not also excommunicated, so how is the church exempt from helping them after excommunicating the father?

      • My guess is that there’s probably 12,000 pages worth of information on this story that we’re not privy to–just like the case in West Virginia. Perhaps we’ll learn one day that the bishop in question should have reported the abuse–I don’t know. Looking at it from a distance it certainly seems like the right thing to do–and maybe at some point the church will make reporting mandatory in those places where it’s allowed. But if they do–then we’ll get fewer people confessing. And that’s one of the main purposes for keeping confessions confidential. It acts–in many instances–as sort of a stop gap for those who are doing something bad and don’t want to get caught. They might feel enough guilt to confess their actions to an ecclesiastical leader–that is, if they know they can trust them not to divulge their secret. Whereas, if they can’t trust them then they’ll continue with their destructive behavior without getting an opportunity for any kind of dissuasion.

        • I can’t fathom what could be in 12,000 pages of information that would change the fact that this bishop, the bishop after him, and however many men serving on the stake presidency and high council who were a part of the disciplinary council
          when the rapist was excommunicated did not report that a child and a baby were being raped.

          You theorize about the possibility of fewer people confessing in the future as justification for why the bishop and other men who knew about this abuse did not report it. How easy it is for you, someone who sounds like he hasn’t been raped, to have this theoretical discussion. I’m sure those two girls will totally understand that they had to endure being raped for years in case someone hypothetical person in the future might not confess something. What is the point of confession if nothing is done to protect people, in this case a CHILD and a BABY (I wouldn’t be surprised if the mom was raped as well) from unspeakable horror?

          • Jack, please provide proof for your statement that if we report we get fewer people confessing. And please provide an answer to the question: if abuse continues, what’s the point of confession? In this case, not only did the abuse continue for 7 years, but the pedophile included his infant daughter in the rapes.

            The LDS church actively blocks legislation that would expand mandatory reporting. The LDS church actively protects men who abuse even when they are named mandatory reporters.

            Know what “dissuades” abuse? Not having access to the children he raped. That would have dissuaded” the abuse.

          • “How easy it is for you, someone who sounds like he hasn’t been raped, to have this theoretical discussion.”

            When I told my biological father — whom I met for the first time when I was 41 years old — about the sexual abuse I had endured as a child all he could say to me was, “that’s happened to everyone I know.”

            Some comfort.

            Re: Confidentiality: I can’t say that that was the reason for the bishop(s) not going to the authorities themselves. There’s too much we don’t know about the situation to make that kind of judgment.

            Even so, the question I have is: would that man have confessed had it been a regular practice for bishops to turn people like him over to the authorities? My guess is that he wouldn’t have approached the bishop at all–and therefore would have had zero access to counselling from a spiritual leader where he was advised to change his behavior and turn himself in.

            Confidentiality opens the door to the possibility of getting good counsel rather than none at all–at least that seems to be the theory behind it.

          • Jack,
            I am so sorry for the trauma you endured and I wish you well. We are trying to solve this issue of sexual violence against everyone, especially children. The fact that sex abuse happens at church bothers me somehow more– because church is supposed to be a safe space, where children to come Christ and feel nothing but love. I know this is not that case, but I want to work as hard as I can to make it this way. As for you, the mama bear in me wants to rage against the individual(s) who harmed you, and build fire-breathing walls of protection around every child so no one suffers the way you did.

            As an adult, what do you think would have best helped to stop your abuser?

            Healing blessings,

        • I’m not sure where this comment will appear in the thread. I’m responding to Spunky.

          Thank you for your thoughtful response, Spunky. I understand the “mama bear” instincts. Except in my case I’d want to be part of a biker gang and roll up to that guy’s house in Arizona, drag him out, beat him until he’s half-dead, and then make him disappear forever. Not a very Christian approach, I know…

          In my case, the problem was my mother’s unstable married life. I’m a child of three divorces–and sure enough the abuse happened when there was not a father in the family. It’s a known quantity that stepfathers are some of the worst violators–but in my case my first stepfather was a tower of strength when it came to defending our home. He was able to chase the monsters away–so to speak.

          Unfortunately, though, there was window of opportunity for the first perpetrator–after my mother’s first divorce and before she married my first stepfather. The abuse was quite severe. The second abuser came along after she divorced my stepfather–reinforcing the pattern of vulnerability when there’s no dad around. And even though the second case of abuse was (shall we say) “milder” than the first it was rather pernicious–as the perpetrator was my home teacher! He stepped into my life as a supposed “father figure” after my mother sent my stepdad away and took advantage of the situation.

          There may be a third brush with abuse — between the two I’ve mentioned — when my mother and stepfather were separated for a time. But the memories are too fuzzy for me to certain about it.

          All of that said, I firmly believe — and I know that my bias is flashing like a neon light — that stable family life with happy marriages and loving parents is the number one deterrent to child abuse. Of course, that runs a bit counterintuitive to the AP story. That husband and father was a monster and needed to be routed out. Even so, in spite of whatever wolves there may be among the flock — and in spite of the fact that it may not be the fastest acting prescription — the church’s focus on building solidarity in the home is (IMO) by far the best medicine in the long term. As necessary as they may be no amount of policies or programs can make up the difference when home life is in shambles.

          • Thank you for your response, Jack. I think we all have dreams about stable home lives where children are protected. I agree with you that it would have been preferable to have a stable home life — and in that, you may have been better protected. But you are not alone in having an untraditional home life as a part of your childhood. The “traditional” home is becoming more and more a minority.

            So I ask again, what do you think would have best helped to stop your abuser in your “non-traditional” childhood? What if your home teacher was open with his bishop about others he offended before he hurt you? Do you think that the bishop has any responsibility towards you at all, or?

            Did the bishop “write you off” because you were not a part of a traditional home? I can’t help but wonder if in part, that the racial differences in the case highlighted in the AP article (white bishop, non-white family) also had a bearing on what continued to happen. What do you think?

            Blessings, ‘

          • Jack, I am also so sorry for the abuse you experience and also grateful that you were willing to share it. As far as biker gang style beat up, I feel exactly the same way towards the person who abused me when I was five. In my experience being abused as child, even once as was my case, can have severe long-term effects which is why I passionately want to protect children and can’t give the church any wiggle room on the advice given this bishops in this situation.

            This is tough stuff. I agree with you that solidarity in the home is the best medicine long term. At the same time my family of origin was, and still is, a model church family. However, there was serious long-term generational trauma that got passed along rendering my parents without much in the way of social-emotional skills and incapable of doing anything for me.

            I am grateful you are here in this discussion.

    • Public Square is as balanced as a teeter totter with only one person on it. They’re the worst apologist rag out there. Except for the church’s own PR department.

  5. I’m a professional mandatory reporter due to the nature of my job. If someone disclosed to me that they had been sexually abused and I didn’t report it, I would be fired and possibly face legal consequences. The fact that so many people knew about the abuse these poor girls suffered through, did NOTHING about it, and aren’t being held accountable for their inaction is disgusting.

  6. I have personally witnessed what happens when the help line is used. I know multiple people involved in another case where leadership knew of abuse and did not report to legal authorities. I can say, definitively, that the perpetrators were protected and the children were not.

  7. Thank you for addressing this topic. We need to hear more LDS women’s voices on the subject of abuse.

    I hope that Exponent will invite a woman of color to discuss this topic, because it is eerily like the Book of Mormon rapes when white Nephite priests are pardoned for raping Lamanite (ie, dark skinned) daughters and then the rapists are invited to join the community in Mosiah 20 and 23. The racial aspects of this case should not be ignored.

    • it is eerily like the Book of Mormon rapes when white Nephite priests are pardoned for raping Lamanite (ie, dark skinned) daughters and then the rapists are invited to join the community in Mosiah 20 and 23

      This looks like a non-sequitur to me. What about this is like that story. And it is rather obtuse to say that they are “invited to join the community” without mentioning what community they were asked to join.

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