An investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that The Church of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, has for decades resorted to strategies set down in a “risk-management playbook” to suppress allegations of sex abuse against its clergy.
In 2017, 31-year-old Chelsea Goodrich testified that when she was a child, her father, a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, had routinely slipped into bed with her while he was aroused. In the ensuing investigation, recordings came to light, obtained by the Associated Press, revealing that The Church had been keeping child sexual abuse cases secret thanks to their strategies and to laws that enabled such secrecy.
One of the most insidious, yet effective in preventing discovery and prosecution, is a law that exists in more than half the states that maintain clergy-penitent privilege, which provides a loophole for clergy who are otherwise required to report child sex abuse. As a result, some child predators who reveal their crimes to clergy in a confessional setting are allowed to remain free.
The recordings provide an unprecedented account of the steps the church normally takes behind closed doors to keep allegations of child sex abuse secret, steps that can leave predators free and children at risk.
Chelsea Goodrich’s mother Lorraine, stated, “How many people can know the truth and choose to pretend they don’t and leave others at risk of the same abuse and they know it and they just don’t care?” adding, “I don’t understand that. I’ll never understand that.”
John Rytting, Utah attorney and head of the church’s Risk Management Division, attended the initial meeting with Chelsea and Lorraine. He had spent about 15 years protecting the organization from costly claims, including sexual abuse lawsuits.
Bishop Michael Miller, who accompanied Rytting to the meeting, had heard a spiritual confession from Chelsea’s father shortly before John Goodrich was arrested on charges of sexually abusing her. However, according to Ryttig such a confession would be useless in trying to convict him, as the clergy-penitent privilege law made it next to impossible for Miller to testify against John Goodrich.
The Mormon Church is not alone in trying to suppress allegations of sex abuse, as the ongoing scandal of pedophilia that has roiled the Catholic Church and caused both a spiritual and financial calamity proves.
Some of the methods employed by the Mormon Church are common to others as well.
Although child welfare advocates have attempted to change or eliminate the clergy-penitent privilege, the AP found that lobbying by religious institutions has persuaded state legislators throughout the country to maintain the loophole. In effect, this is the equivalent of a “get out of jail free card” for the clergy, leaving victims at their mercy.