8 Dec 2010

Children's rights lawyer criticizes Mormon church's child protection policies, but church claims it has gold standard

Mormon Times - Utah June 5, 2010

Mormon Media Observer: Church lawyer sets record straight on child-abuse column

by Joel Campbell


The LDS Church's chief outside legal counsel has responded to a critical column on the legal website Findlaw, saying the church's system for reporting and responding to child abuse is the "gold standard."

Von G. Keetch, chief outside legal counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responded to highly critical column [see article below] written by Marci A. Hamilton that among other things suggested the LDS Church's approach to child abuse is similar to that in the Roman Catholic Church, which has been embroiled in a priest-child abuse scandal.

Keetch responded in a recent column [see article below]:

"The LDS Church has long had a highly effective approach for preventing and responding to abuse. In fact, no religious organization has done more. Although no one system is perfect and no single program will work with every organization, the LDS Church's approach is the gold standard."

Hamilton — based on interviews with attorneys, reading of case law and a read of a Doctrine and Covenants lesson manual — suggested the following:

"Thus, the LDS Church has created essentially the same opaque system that the Catholic Church has employed when it comes to child sex abuse. While the polygamy, child brides and sex abuse endemic to the polygamous sects are not permitted or encouraged by LDS, the structure of the organization, the importance of its self-image as a leader of virtue in the world, and its intent to protect the church from liability have, together, yielded a cycle of abuse that is not at all unlike that which has been widely documented in the Roman Catholic Church."

Hamilton's main assertion throughout the column is that the LDS Church is more concerned about its image than responding to abuse and the church's doctrine and practice fosters little outside review.

Keetch wrote the following:

"The LDS Church takes significant precautions to guard against abuse within its congregations. Official church policy states: 'All members, especially parents and leaders, are encouraged to be alert and diligent and do all they can to protect children and others against abuse and neglect.' Members are taught to be aware of the issue and to alert law enforcement and church leaders if they believe a child is in danger. The church fully supports compliance with child abuse reporting laws and regularly encourages members to report. The suggestion that the church instructs members to keep abuse issues solely within the church is false. The church enforces a 'two-deep' policy so that adult males who work with children or youth are never alone with a minor. At great expense, the church is currently installing windows in the classroom doors of thousands of its meetinghouses so that children are never out of sight. As a result of these and many other efforts, abuse on church properties or during church activities is rare."

Hamilton's credibility comes into question when she doesn't get some of the basic facts right, including a suggestion that Mitt Romney would be considered a prophet if elected and ahw erroneously ties the LDS Church with polygamist sects and their practices. In her column, Hamilton, who is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, suggested she welcomes response from the LDS Church authorities. While she may be a lawyer, she could learn something from journalists who try to get their facts straight before they publish an article. If she really wanted a balanced column, wouldn't she have sought out the facts from LDS authorities before she published her piece on the Web? Of course, Hamilton gets the last word, with her response to Keetch's column [see article below].


This article was found at:

http://www.mormontimes.com/article/13978/Mormon-Media-Observer-Church-lawyer-sets-record-straight-on-child-abuse-column

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FindLaw - April 15, 2010

How Other Religious Organizations Echo the Roman Catholic Church's Rule Against Scandal – A Precept that Entrenches and Perpetuates Cycles of Child Sex Abuse: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Part One in a Two-Part Series

By MARCI A. HAMILTON


Recently, the world's attention has been trained on the Vatican and the Pope, as they try to respond to the outcry from sexual abuse victims and those who want to see them obtain justice in numerous countries – including Austria, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United States.

As I explained in a recent column for this site, the similarity between the policies that have been applied in each country by Catholic bishops represents either a gigantic, uncanny set of coincidences, or a policy orchestrated from Rome. And anyone without a vested interest in defending the Roman Catholic hierarchy knows which option is by far the more likely.

In a column in The Huffington Post, I recently urged the until-now silent United States government to take action to protect children against these human rights violations. We need to remember that these stories are first and foremost about children being brutally victimized and callously treated. The Vatican, with its history and veneration, has drawn all attention to itself with the force of a black hole. Understandably, the stories of powerful men falling from grace have an irresistibly compelling element, but the real story here lies in the morally transcendent issue of the suffering of child sex abuse victims.

Before the Vatican achieves a 21st Century miracle and succeeds in tamping down this story – and it is capable of doing that if the media, Catholics, and the public permit it to do so –- I would like to bring to the world's attention the fact that this is not the only religious patriarchy that operates this way. To the contrary, children are being, and have been, sexually abused within other large, mainstream religious organizations, yet their stories, too, have been held captive by theological rules of secrecy that parallel the Catholic Church's rule against scandal.

There are actually many such organizations, but I will focus in this column on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which I'll refer to as "LDS" or "the Mormons"), and in my next column, on Orthodox Judaism. [see next entry in this blog] I understand that believers hold their religious institutions dear, and such feelings are to be respected, but I see no other way to protect children than to place such beliefs and practices under the public spotlight. This is not about persecution but rather protection of our most vulnerable.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Beliefs that Foster Silence and Cover-ups Regarding Child Sex Abuse

Let me begin by saying that I am not a member of the LDS Church and that I have drawn the following conclusions based on reported cases, based on interviews of lawyers who represent victims, and by reading LDS materials, including the Doctrine and Covenants and the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual. If I do get any of the following principles wrong, I welcome correction from LDS leadership.

LDS texts establish beliefs and practices that operate to keep child sex abuse secret, in the same way that the Catholic Church's principles have done so. First, as with the Roman Catholic Church, one of the LDS's central beliefs is in keeping the public image of the Church pure. According to LDS's Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, "it is our great mission to be a standard to all the world. . ." Achieving that goal, the manual teaches, requires measures that "safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name . . . or moral influence of the Church[.]" When one of the missions of a church is to be a moral example for the world, and to protect its "good name," the incentive to prevent the appearance of tarnishment is powerful, as it has been in both the Catholic and Mormon traditions. This means that the institution will work hard to keep the damning information inside the organization and away from outsiders.

The interests of the child sex abuse victim are persistently demoted beneath the goals of the organization and its leadership. Just as Catholic bishops have been directed for decades, if not centuries, not to cooperate with civil authorities in clergy child sex abuse case (at least until last Sunday, when the Holy See issued a statement that bishops should report cases to the authorities if civil law requires), so too Mormon leaders are discouraged from cooperating with authorities in cases involving abuse. They are not supposed to testify in abuse cases involving their own members (unless the Church itself is implicated), and they must confer with their Office of Legal Services or the Area Presidency before talking to civil authorities. In other words, there must be a pause between learning of the horror of abuse and picking up the phone to involve the authorities. Moreover, they are not supposed to persuade victims to testify (or not to testify) against LDS members.

In addition, while there is no hierarchy, in the sense of a monarchy, within LDS, its leadership is made up of "prophets," who "speak[] for God." Indeed, when they speak, it is as though they are God. (That would include potential Presidential nominee Mitt Romney.) And believers are expected to be completely obedient to the prophets. If they are, it is taught, then blessings will flow. Like the Catholic bishops, then, the LDS leaders have impressive power to persuade believers to put the interests of the organization ahead of the victims.

LDS's Troubling Precepts Relating to the Reporting of Child Sex Abuse

While Mormon doctrine, like Catholic doctrine, includes a general proposition holding that members should obey the law, there is no requirement within Mormon doctrine that reports about abuse must be made to the authorities.

Rather, the LDS system is constructed so that abuse stays internal, victims have no escape route, and perpetrators can have a field day. Church leaders are supposed to be "sensitive" to victims, but the primary focus is on how to handle the perpetrator: Doctrine requires that the perpetrator must be disciplined within the Church, but later may be given full membership status or readmitted.

Like the Catholic Church, the Mormons have followed a pattern of merely urging counseling for perpetrators within their own system. Leaders and bishops are directed to call LDS Social Services, so that counseling will be "in harmony with gospel principles."

The strongest suggestion within LDS doctrine regarding reporting abuse to civil authorities requires urging an abuser to turn him or herself in: If a bishop or stake president learns of a "member's abusive activities," he "should urge the member to report these activities to the appropriate government authorities." But of course, the abuser has every incentive not to make such a report.

There is no requirement within the Catholic Church that child sex abuse must be reported routinely. The Vatican's new rule is simply that bishops should report abuse if the law makes such reporting mandatory; it is not a requirement that abuse be reported in each instance. The same principle holds in the Mormon universe: There is an implicit acquiescence to the reporting of abuse to the authorities by the leadership if the law of the state at issue includes mandatory reporting, but only then, and LDS has worked hard in the states to ensure that this requirement is narrowly interpreted for churches.

When reporting does occur, the leader is required to "encourage the [abusing] member to secure qualified legal advice." The same is not said about a victim.

The Confessional Exception to States' Clergy Abuse Reporting Requirements

In Utah, clergy are required to report abuse unless it is obtained during a "confession." Utah Code Ann. § 62A-4a-403 (2009). The same is true in Arizona, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3620 (LexisNexis 2009); Oregon, Or. Rev. Stat. § 419B.010 (2007) (incorporating by reference the clergy-penitent privilege at Or. Rev. Stat. § 40.260 (2007)); and California, Cal. Penal Code § 11166(d) (Deering 2009).

Yet the states differ as to how broadly or narrowly they interpret the term "confession" when it appears within these laws. The LDS Church and other religious groups have repeatedly argued that most clergy communications satisfy the "confession" exception to the requirement to report.

That argument succeeded in Utah, Montana, and Washington, but not in California, which has held that "In order for a statement to be privileged, it must satisfy all of the conceptual requirements of a penitential communication: (1) it must be intended to be in confidence; (2) it must be made to a member of the clergy who in the course of his or her religious discipline or practice is authorized or accustomed to hear such communications; and (3) such member of the clergy has a duty under the discipline or tenets of the church, religious denomination or organization to keep such communications secret."

LDS, Like the Catholic Church, Must Change Its System So that Child Sex Abuse Is Reported to Civil Authorities

Thus, the LDS Church has created essentially the same opaque system that the Catholic Church has employed when it comes to child sex abuse. While the polygamy, child brides, and sex abuse endemic to the polygamous sects are not permitted or encouraged by LDS, the structure of the organization, the importance of its self-image as a leader of virtue in the world, and its intent to protect the Church from liability have, together, yielded a cycle of abuse that is not at all unlike that which has been widely documented in the Roman Catholic Church.

So is there serious abuse in the LDS Church? Absolutely. Why don't we know more about it? Because of the Church's internal beliefs, rules, and the acquiescence of its believers – just like in the case of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, the laws and precedents in Utah have served to cover it up very effectively. If there is one state in the United States that is anathema to lawyers representing child sex abuse victims because the odds of success are so low, it is Utah.

Those on the outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are in the same position outsiders were in with respect to the Roman Catholic Church and clergy abuse before 2002, when the Boston Globe broke the cover story. I have no doubt that what I am saying will provoke defensive and even angry responses. I also know, having dealt with the Catholic Bishops for as long as I have, that there will be powerful temptations to attack me personally. So be it. But I sincerely hope it will also lead to real reforms that result in sunshine on dangerous practices and a reordering of priorities that will put their own vulnerable children atop the list of priorities.

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Marci Hamilton, a FindLaw columnist, is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of  Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children (Cambridge 2008). A review of Justice Denied appeared on this site on June 25, 2008. Her previous book is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005), now available in paperback. Her email is hamilton02@aol.com.

This article was found at:

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20100415.html

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FindLaw - May 27, 2010

Protecting Children in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

By VON G. KEETCH



Marci Hamilton's recent column entitled "How Other Religious Organizations Echo the Roman Catholic Church's Rule Against Scandal . . ." (Thursday, April 15, 2010) [see article above] contains numerous inaccuracies about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church") handles child abuse. I have worked very closely with the LDS Church on child abuse issues for twenty years and am fully familiar with its approach. I have also served as an ecclesiastical leader in the LDS Church. And I have worked closely with other religious organizations on abuse issues. With this background and firsthand knowledge, I write to set the record straight.

Child abuse is a society-wide problem that affects people of all demographics. Tragically, every organization with families and children—religious or otherwise—faces the issue. That is particularly true of large and diverse organizations, such as the LDS Church, whose very purpose is to welcome and minister to all people.

The LDS Church has long had a highly effective approach for preventing and responding to abuse. In fact, no religious organization has done more. Although no one system is perfect and no single program will work with every organization, the LDS Church's approach is the gold standard.

For decades, the LDS Church has repeatedly, publicly, and unequivocally denounced child abuse as an "insidious evil" and a "sin of the darkest hue." Church leaders at the highest level began making such statements and aggressively addressing the issue even before clergy-abuse cases raised public awareness in the mid-1980s. Since 1976, more than 50 articles have appeared in Church publications condemning child abuse or educating members about it. As wrenching as the topic is, Church leaders have given sermons about it more than 30 times at the Church's worldwide conferences. Preventing and responding to child abuse is the subject of a regular lesson taught during Sunday meetings. The Church has produced and distributed extensive training materials for local leaders and members alike. To this day Church leaders continue to speak publicly about abuse and forcefully address it. The Church's official instructions for ecclesiastical leaders sums up the approach: "Abuse cannot be tolerated in any form."

While clergy-abuse cases continue to grab headlines, the LDS Church has had almost no child abuse problems with its clergy. The Church has a part-time lay clergy at the local level. Leaders of congregations are called bishops. Bishops are selected from the local membership to serve as uncompensated volunteers for about five years. Most have lived in the community and attended their congregations for many years and thus are well known to Church members before they are selected. Bishops are called by more senior ecclesiastical leaders, but before a bishop is installed all congregation members first vote to sustain his selection. The Church takes abuse allegations so seriously that even one member with a credible concern can derail the selection. And even after a bishop assumes office, any credible allegation of abuse against him would quickly result in the Church's terminating the calling and selecting another bishop. Because termination does not result in loss of salary or living arrangements (local clergy are uncompensated), there is no need for a lengthy internal process. This zero-tolerance approach risks problems with false allegations, but the Church has chosen to err on the side of caution. The result is that abuse by LDS clergy is exceedingly rare and swiftly addressed.

LDS clergy also have powerful incentives to protect children from abusers within their congregations. All bishops are married and most have children of their own, often young ones, who attend their respective congregations and participate in their activities. Bishops are therefore personally invested in the safety and well-being of their Church community. When a child abuser threatens the safety of his congregation, a bishop has no incentive, financial or otherwise, to do other than protect his Church family as he does his own.

The LDS Church takes significant precautions to guard against abuse within its congregations. Official Church policy states: "All members, especially parents and leaders, are encouraged to be alert and diligent and do all they can to protect children and others against abuse and neglect." Members are taught to be aware of the issue and to alert law enforcement and Church leaders if they believe a child is in danger. The Church fully supports compliance with child abuse reporting laws and regularly encourages members to report. The suggestion that the Church instructs members to keep abuse issues solely within the Church is false. The Church enforces a "two-deep" policy so that adult males who work with children or youth are never alone with a minor. At great expense, the Church is currently installing windows in the classroom doors of thousands of its meetinghouses so that children are never out of sight. As a result of these and many other efforts, abuse on Church properties or during Church activities is rare.

Despite these precautions, child abuse sometimes occurs within a member family or between two members. With over five million members in the United States alone, the LDS Church cannot monitor its member's private lives. The Church is not a police force; nor should it be. Local clergy hold full-time secular jobs and thus perform much of their ministry during their free time on Sundays or in one or two weekday evenings after work. There is much they don't know about the lives of their congregation members.

When local clergy learn of alleged abuse, Church policy states that their first priority "is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse." But as anyone with experience in the area knows, dealing with alleged abuse can be very complex. Because its clergy are laymen without professional training or qualifications in social work, in 1995 the LDS Church established a 24-hour Help Line and instructed its ecclesiastical leaders to call it immediately when they learn of abuse. The Help Line is staffed by licensed social workers with professional experience in dealing with abuse. They advise clergy about how best to protect the victim from further abuse, protect others from abuse, deal with the perpetrator, and aid the healing process for victims. Child abuse is a crime with serious legal consequences. The Help Line provides legal counsel to aid clergy in complying with the law and working with law enforcement.

Reporting abuse can raise difficult legal and personal issues. State reporting laws vary greatly. A broad majority of states exempt confidential communications with clergy from reporting duties. Why? Because public policy makers have concluded that confidentiality helps victims and perpetrators alike come forward and get help. A confidential confession to a clergyperson often breaks the cycle of abuse and is the first step in a process that leads to voluntary reporting by the perpetrator, victim, or others.

Abuse victims themselves often demand confidentiality. Many victims who reveal tragic abuse experiences to clergy—some of which may have occurred decades earlier—do not want to be traumatized again by a criminal investigation and public prosecution. In navigating these complex and wrenching situations, Church clergy are instructed to comply with the law. The Church routinely reports child abuse to law enforcement. And even where reporting is not mandatory, the Church usually finds ways to get abuse reported while still respecting the victim's desire for privacy.

The LDS Church is one of the only religious organizations that actively disfellowships or excommunicates ordinary members for child abuse. Excommunication terminates a person's membership in the Church, which is the harshest ecclesiastical punishment possible. Its purpose is to induce the person to stop his crimes and seek forgiveness from God, to protect other Church members, and to demonstrate institutional condemnation of such evil conduct. After many years, perpetrators who truly change their lives can be readmitted to Church membership, but their membership record is permanently marked with an annotation that precludes them from ever again associating with the Church's children or youth.

The LDS Church's policies and practices have evolved over the years. The Help Line, for example, has been highly successful since its creation over 15 years ago. The LDS Church continues to look for ways to refine and improve its approach to abuse. To be sure, tragic situations have arisen. The Church's response is always to help victims of abuse. At times the Church has to defend itself in court against spurious allegations and overreaching demands, most arising from situations that allegedly occurred decades ago. But for many years the LDS Church has had the highest standards among religious organizations.

One final point: The LDS Church has not taken these measures to protect its reputation but to protect children. Mormons are well known for their love of children. Church leaders and members treasure the innocence of childhood and take seriously Jesus Christ's severe condemnation of anyone who harms a child. See, e.g., Matt. 18:6 ("But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.") The LDS Church's deep concern for children has led to a system that is highly effective at preventing abuse, protecting and helping victims, ensuring that Church clergy comply with the law, and disciplining and expelling abusers.

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Von G. Keetch is chief outside legal counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

This article was found at:

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20100527_keetch.html

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FindLaw - May 27, 2010

A Reply to Von Keetch's Comments on Clergy Child Sex Abuse and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

By MARCI A. HAMILTON



On April 15, FindLaw posted my opening column [see article above] on the issue of how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which I will call the "LDS Church" or "LDS") handles clergy child sex abuse. As I stated there, I welcome further discussion of this important issue. In raising and discussing clergy sex abuse in the contexts of different religious institutions and faiths, I am interested solely in the truth and the protection of children.

Since then, Von Keetch, chief outside counsel to the LDS, has responded to my column, and FindLaw has also posted his response. [see article above] As Keetch notes in his column, he has worked closely with the LDS Church on child abuse issues for twenty years, and has served as an ecclesiastical leader in the Church. In this column, I will discuss Keetch's points — but first, I will briefly summarize the immediate responses to my column that I received via email.

The Responses I Received from LDS Church Members

Except for one individual's email, the responses I received were unfailingly polite, which is a credit to the LDS Church and its values. And they ran the full gamut. There was the LDS public relations person, who responded very quickly to defend the Church. There were men who had been, or are now, in some positions of leadership who said they believe the Church's rule is to always report abuse. One told me that if that is not the rule, he does not care, because he will do what is right regardless.

But there were more who wrote to me to thank me for my column, saying that the LDS has work to do in this field. These included current members, ex-members, and child-sex-abuse survivors from within the LDS community. According to these correspondents, LDS bishops have ignored reports about abuse, and have often discouraged reporting. In addition, they say that LDS members have been shunned for telling the authorities or outsiders about abuse. Based on the comments I received, there also seems to be a strong value placed by LDS on keeping families together even when that means a child remains captive to an abusing parent. In light of these emails, I approach Keetch's lawyerly response with some skepticism.

Assessing Keetch's Points

Keetch is, of course, correct that child sex abuse is a "society-wide problem" that spans groups and families. The largest segment of victims is composed of persons who were victimized by family members or acquaintances. That is why I started my book on clergy child sex abuse, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children, with an email from a victim of incest. This is — and always should be — about children. The reality is that organizational mishandling of the issue is just the tip of the iceberg.

Since we are primarily concerned with protecting children, I would warn every parent to be extremely careful about any organization that claims, as Keetch does, that it has set the "gold standard" on these issues. That has been the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy's mantra since 2003, but recent revelations have made it abundantly clear that a "gold standard" in this arena can be more about public relations than actual child safety.

Many believed, erroneously, as it turns out, that the Boy Scouts had set the highest standard, but the recent revelations detailed in the court case in Oregon in which the jury awarded both compensatory and sizable punitive damages, Lewis v. Boy Scouts of America, et. al., and the news coverage accompanying it — such as this article in The Oregonian, and this one — show that the Boy Scout organization has not lived up to its image of being child-protective.

Moreover, the problem with claims like "the LDS Church has had almost no child abuse problems with its clergy," is that only the LDS higher-ups would know for sure. While the Catholic bishops were telling everyone that the 2002 revelations in the United States were peculiar to the United States, no one outside the system knew, as the bishops themselves did, that routine cover-up of child sex abuse by clergy was actually a worldwide problem. In addition, given that the vast majority of abuse occurs in the family, I take cold comfort from the argument that LDS bishops are family men with children of their own.

Why Keetch's Explanations Raise More Questions than Answers

In fact, Keetch's explanations leave more questions than answers in my mind. Keetch states, "The Church fully supports compliance with child abuse reporting laws and regularly encourages members to report." However, I am not persuaded — for several reasons.

First, the same does not seem to be true for LDS leadership. This is what the 2006 Church Handbook of Instructions states:


"To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party, Church leaders should avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases reviewing the conduct of members over whom they preside. In the United States and Canada, a leader should confer with the Church's Office of General Counsel if he is subpoenaed, is considering testifying in a lawsuit, is asked to communicate with attorneys or civil authorities regarding legal proceedings, or is asked to offer verbal or written testimony. Outside the United States and Canada, leaders should contact the administration office to obtain local legal counsel in these situations."

"Church leaders should not try to persuade alleged victims or other witnesses either to testify or not to testify in criminal or civil court proceedings."

Church Handbook Book (2006), 178.

How do these directives square with Keetch's portrait of the Church as transparent on these issues and devoted to zero-tolerance? Not well. A true zero-tolerance policy would encourage LDS members to testify in civil and criminal proceedings involving allegations of clergy child abuse within the LDS.

Second, the LDS Church has invested heavily in arguing against liability for its own victims in the courts. Most recently, it filed a joint amicus brief in the Nevada Supreme Court with the Catholic bishops, arguing that the First Amendment should protect the Church from liability for negligent handling of abuse. If the LDS Church has truly put children first and established "the gold standard" in this area, then why does it need constitutional protection from its negligent handling of child sex abuse? We know from other religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jews, that concerns about internal power, public image, and a greater concern for the preservation of wealth than victim suffering typically drive such arguments. Keetch has not explained why the LDS Church would be any different.

Third, Keetch's defense reaches the level of the ridiculous when he states, "Reporting abuse can raise difficult legal and personal issues. State reporting laws vary greatly." The public needs to understand what is really going on here. Keetch attributes the differences to "public policy makers." Yet, he knows full well who is lobbying to keep churches and clergy from having to report abuse: Churches are, with the LDS Church and the Catholic bishops at the forefront.

This reminds me of the qualification that the Vatican attached to its recent statement that bishops should report abuse: The Vatican encouraged reporting, but only when civil law requires it. Most media picked up this statement as if it had embraced a requirement that bishops report abuse, period. But the bishops themselves knew full well that they had lobbied hard in the United States to gain exemptions to reporting requirements, and broad interpretations of the so-called "confessional privilege." (I addressed the confessional privilege in a previous column.) When child advocates proposed a reporting requirement in Maryland without a confessional exception (under such a requirement, if priests knew about child abuse, they would have to let the authorities know, regardless of the source of the knowledge), the bishops pulled out all of the stops, including loudly accusing the child advocates of being anti-Catholic, and handing out flyers in the pews on Sundays that demanded that members call their elected representatives to reject the bill. Instead of offering a reporting bill that includes clergy, but has a confessional exception, they killed the bill altogether. So much for putting children first.

My position on these matters is simple: I will take seriously the religious organizations' apparent encouragement to report abuse as soon as they stop lobbying against, and start lobbying for, reporting requirements. That means they have to stop the lobbying behind-the-scenes, as well as in the public spotlight, and they have to sink their resources into laws that protect children.

Overall, It Still Seems Clear that the LDS Must Work on These Issues

Finally, one statement that Keetch made indicated to me that the emails I received from those inside the LDS Church saying that much needs to be done were correct. Keetch states, "A confidential confession to a clergyperson often breaks the cycle of abuse and is the first step in a process that leads to voluntary reporting by the perpetrator, victim, or others."

But that was the entire point of my initial column, and my work as a whole: Clergy have proven to be ineffective in stopping cycles of abuse — keeping abuse confidential (i.e., keeping the authorities out of the picture) is one sure way to ensure that a father who is having sex with one child can move onto the next one, and a teacher who is fondling a student will feel confident about going after the next one. As Keetch admits earlier in his response, LDS clergy are not trained professionals; rather, they take on these issues in addition to their other career and family obligations. Without professional training, all they have is what the Church tells them, and as the quote above from their own materials indicates, the LDS Church is not as clearly dedicated to the protection of children as Keetch would suggest. So this statement favoring confidential confessions to clergy undermines virtually everything else Keetch says.

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Marci Hamilton, a FindLaw columnist, is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of  Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children (Cambridge 2008). A review of Justice Denied appeared on this site on June 25, 2008. Her previous book is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005), now available in paperback. Her email is hamilton02@aol.com.


This article was found at:

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20100527.html

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