26 Apr 2011

Mormon church leaders claim clergy privilege and say they had no duty to report sex abuse of teen to police

The Arizona Republic  -   April 24, 2011

Experts: Church erred in Brock sex case

Church leaders held back key details, officials say

by Laurie Merrill | The Arizona Republic

Law-enforcement authorities said local leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints never reported information to police that could have protected a teenager abused by Susan Brock, wife of Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock.

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said leaders did report the abuse, but she declined to provide details on who was told and when. The LDS church, based in Salt Lake City, would let Farah be quoted only for this story. Farah said the actions of the church were appropriate.

Susan Brock, 49, was arrested after the victim's parents reported to Chandler police on Oct. 22 that their son told them he had been abused for three years. Brock was sentenced on April 8 to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of attempted sexual conduct with a minor.

The parents initially expressed their concerns in October 2009 during a meeting with the Brocks and Chandler Stake East President Mitch Jones, police records show. The stake president is a lay leader at an intermediate level of the church, representing a group of congregations.

Armed with an order of protection against Susan, the parents said she was having an inappropriate relationship with their son, giving him expensive presents, texting and phoning him and bringing him lunch at school. During the meeting, the father asked Susan, "Are you having sexual relations with my son?" She replied, "No, I am not."

Police and court records say that Susan had been sexually abusing the boy for two years at that point and that the abuse continued for another year.

In October, Susan Brock admitted to Bishop Matthew Meyers that she had molested the teen three times, the records show. The bishop is the lay leader of the local ward, or congregation.

Still, the bishop did not go to police, Deputy Pinal County Attorney Jason Holmberg said during Susan Brock's April 7 presentence hearing.

On Oct. 19, the father and his son went to Bishop Troy Hansen and told him the abuse was far worse and extensive than Susan Brock had acknowledged, the records show. But the crimes were not reported until Oct. 22, when the father, "tired of waiting," took his son to the Chandler Police Department, Holmberg said.
October '09 meeting

The victim's parents suspected something was wrong in October 2009 and expressed their concerns to Jones and the Brocks, police records show. At this point, scholars and church members said, Jones had the option of bringing the boy in for questioning.

"Missing . . . is any indication that (the boy's parents), or the stake president, or anyone else, actually confronted (the victim) in October 2009 with a suspicion that he had been intimately involved with Susan," said Armand Mauss, in response to a description of events.

"The boy might well have admitted the relationship then and there, saving a year's time in the arrest of Susan," said Mauss, a sociologist known for his expertise on the Mormon Church.

For six years, Mauss has taught courses in Mormon studies as adjunct faculty in the School of Religion of Claremont Graduate University in California.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, based in Chicago, concurred.

"What is missing here is nobody put the needs of the child first," Dorris said. "This is not a normal relationship (the boy and Susan's). I have six kids and I have never brought lunch to any kid any day.

"Then there was the secret cellphone," she said, referring to a phone Susan had given the teen that the boy's mother returned to her in October 2009. "All those red flags are there."

Former U.S. Attorney Mel McDonald of Phoenix, who has worked on church-sex cases, disagreed, saying he doesn't think the stake president had a duty to report.

Whether the president should have interviewed the boy is a judgment call, said Lisa Davis, an investigative journalist and author of "The Sins of Brother Curtis: A Story of Betrayal, Conviction and the Mormon Church." Church leaders in such situations "are not required to," said Davis, who lives in the San Francisco area.

October 2010

Police say Susan committed her last act with the victim on Oct 5.

On Oct. 8, she gave the boy's cellphone to his girlfriend and asked her to give it to him. Instead, the girlfriend was "shocked," according to reports, by sexually explicit texts and videos Susan sent the boy. The girl told her mother, who told the boy's mother.

On Oct. 9-10, Susan told Bishop Meyers she molested the teen but did not admit the dozens of acts on which she would later be indicted nor discuss the longevity of the abuse.

This meeting likely would be deemed a "confession," protecting Susan with the clergy-penitent relationship, said several of those interviewed. But the exemption does not apply to the evidence provided outside of confession, such as comments from the boy's father.

"The bishops should have said, 'You call police or we will immediately,' " said Dorris, of the priest-abuse survivors group.

Davis agreed that when the father of a victim comes to a religious leader and says someone has been harming his child, it is not a protected conversation.

"The question is, what happened between the 19th and 22nd (when the boy and his dad reported the crime to Chandler police)?" Davis said. "Was the bishop counseling the father to go to police? If so, he is pretty much in the clear."

Holmberg said the bishop did not contact police.

Protecting the victim

A basic principle of the Mormon Church is to protect any victim, said Lavina Fielding Anderson, described as a Latter-day Saint scholar, writer, editor and feminist.

"The Church's position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form," according to "Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops."

"Those who abuse or are cruel to their spouse, children, other family members or anyone else violates the laws of God and man."

Churches and the state give great discretion to the clergy, especially if the information is presented during a confession. Arizona law says clergy "may withhold" information, even child abuse, learned during confession. Without the clergy-penitent privilege, talking to the clergy would be akin to talking to police.

But Jan Shipps, described as a U.S. historian specializing in Mormon history, said "the issue is whether there was a defined responsibility or not."

"Otherwise, it is left to the discretion of the church," said Shipps, a professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The role of clergy

The Brock case is the latest in a long-running debate over the role of clergy in sexual-abuse cases.

In July, two Valley pastors were arrested on suspicion of failing to report reputed sex crimes against two girls in a case that highlighted the state's mandatory reporting rules for crimes against children. That case, involving a church in Glendale, is pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.

In 2003, Bishop Thomas O'Brien, head of the Phoenix Diocese of the Catholic Church, acknowledged that for decades, he had covered up allegations of sexual abuse by priests. O'Brien previously had revealed that at least 50 priests, former priests and church employees had been accused of sexual misconduct with children in the Phoenix Diocese.

Authorities say they are continuing to investigate the Brock case. They have declined to say whether they are considering any legal action involving LDS church leaders.

This article was found at:


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  1. Lawsuit - Mormons Sexually Abused Navajo Foster Children

    by Brandy Sadrozny, Daily Beast April 5, 2016

    Two Navajo siblings say a foster program that placed Native American children with white Mormon families failed to intervene and stop years of alleged abuse.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did nothing to protect two Navajo children from sexual abuse in the 1970s and early 1980s while they were enrolled in a program to convert and assimilate Native American students, according to a lawsuit filed in Navajo Nation District Court last week.

    The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified damages, as well as a letter of apology to them and to the entire Navajo Nation; a change in church policy requiring church members to report charges of sexual abuse to the police; and the creation of a task force that would help to restore the Navajo culture that some participants say the program effectively erased.

    Now-adult siblings RJ and MM—The Daily Beast does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse—left their home on a reservation in Sawmill, Arizona, at ages 10 and 11, respectively, to be part of the Mormon church’s Indian Student Placement Program, a controversial voluntary foster care initiative that baptized some 40,000 children between 1947 and 2000 and brought them to live with white, Mormon families during the school year.

    During his year in the program, RJ says, he was sporadically sexually molested by members of his foster family. When he told an LDS Social Services caseworker—a paid employee tasked with overseeing the safety and well-being of Native children in their new homes—RJ was moved to another foster family. But the alleged abuse continued, both for him and for his older sister, MM. According to the complaint, MM was raped by a friend of her foster family and later molested by her foster father.

    No criminal charges were filed at the time, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys.

    The LDS Church did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. In a statement released last week, it said: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately.”

    Yet the complaint alleges that the Mormon church “failed to take reasonable steps and failed to implement reasonable safeguards to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future by certain foster family members.” Furthermore, it says the church had no system in place or procedure to supervise employees and volunteers to ensure the children’s safety.

    In fact, the LDS Social Services was inadequately staffed, according to a report in Indian Country Today, which reported that in 1966 there were only 19 caseworkers for 1,569 Native students in the program.

    “Some students were on the program for years and never saw one,” Brigham Young University professor Jessie Embry told a reporter.

    “It’s more than just the sexual abuse, it’s the cultural harm,” the siblings’ attorney, Craig Vernon, told The Daily Beast.

    “Doctrine didn’t give them the right to take [RJ and MM] off the reservation because they thought it was the fulfillment of a prophecy. Everybody’s got the right to believe what they want to believe. The First Amendment protects that. But when you encroach upon someone else’s culture in order to fulfill your own prophecy, which is what they did, it is damaging and there’s no surprise that abuse happens because of the fact that these people were seen as literally second-class citizens.”

    Indeed, though some former participants in the program say Mormon foster families gave them educational opportunities that the reservation and their birth families could not, a chorus of others argues that the perhaps well-intentioned program was driven by racist ideology and left cultural, physical, and psychological scars on thousands of Native American children.

    continued below

  2. The Lamanite Student Placement Program, as it was originally known, was started informally in 1947 with a single student; by its peak in the 1970s, some 5,000 Indian children were living as foster kids in the care of white Mormon families.

    The program wasn’t purely benevolent. Native Americans hold a special place in Mormon mythology. According to The Book of Mormon, American Indians are descendents of the Lamanites, a tribe from ancient Israel, who had been cursed for their godlessness with darkened skin.

    According to the text—supposedly handed down to Joseph Smith on metal plates in 1827—after the Mormons bring the gospel to the Lamanites, “their scale of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be white and delightsome people.”

    The LDS church changed the verse in 1981, exchanging “white” for “pure,” but church leaders speaking of the student placement program at the time left little doubt about the literalness with which Mormons read the whitening prophecy.

    Speaking before the 1960 General Conference, the LDS church’s then-president and prophet Spencer W. Kimball claimed that the skin of children who moved into white homes during the school year had turned shades lighter.

    “The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation,” Kimball said. “At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.”

    In the 1980 book Without Reservation, Kay Cox, who had taken in 14 Navajo foster children under the program over 16 years, acknowledged the hardships for American Indian kids, including not being able to speak their native tongue at school or to family members. Cox wrote that one Native girl “bathed in Clorox to try to get rid of her brown skin.”

    Oral histories, academic papers, and news reports all tell the stories of former child participants who describe being forced to convert, ripped from their families and separated from siblings, and enduring a humiliating rite of passage just to enter the program—being packed into buses, bathed and inoculated by strangers, who then cut their long hair or shaved their heads. Once with their foster families, some children found themselves in a kind of indentured servitude—working on the farm, or being the de facto babysitter for a house of younger children.

    Still, in online bios on the church’s website, several American Indian members credit their participation in the placement program as a positive influence on their life.

    On a Facebook group for former participants, one man wrote, “Hopefully the world won’t judge the church and the program too hard due to someone’s terrible action, and hopefully they’ll be prosecuted under the law. The church is still true and I for one, am very grateful the LDS church and Spencer W. Kimball for starting this program. Even though I loved my family on the reservation and hated to leave, the reservation had nothing to offer me, verse what the placement program had.”

    The final student to go through the Indian placement program graduated in 2000. The church has never formally discontinued it.


  3. Mormon Church hit with second lawsuit saying children abused


    The Mormon Church has been hit with another lawsuit saying that it did nothing to protect children in a church-run foster program from sexual abuse.

    Two Navajo siblings sued The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Navajo Nation court earlier this year. A second lawsuit made public Tuesday outlines similar allegations.

    A Navajo woman identified as B.N. says she was sexually molested and raped multiple times while in foster care and by health care providers in Utah, from 1965 to 1972. She was among thousands of American Indians who participated in the church's Indian Student Placement Program.

    Attorneys representing the three plaintiffs say church leaders did not report the abuse to law enforcement and failed to protect the children who, as adults, suffer from emotional and physical distress.

    They have scheduled a news conference Wednesday in Gallup, New Mexico, to discuss the cases that seek changes to church policy, written apologies and unspecified damages.

    "Religious organizations and programs should be places where children are safe from harm, not places that protect sexual predators," said one of the attorneys, Patrick Noaker.

    A spokeswoman for the Mormon Church, Kristen Howey, did not immediately respond to messages left Tuesday evening. The church has said it doesn't tolerate abuse of any kind and now tracks church members who have harmed children to keep them away from other kids.

    Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the Navajo Nation is the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuits because decisions about where to place children were made on the reservation. Participation in the placement program that lasted from the late 1940s to around 2000 was voluntary.

    The Mormon Church says the tribal court is not the proper venue because none of the alleged conduct took place on the reservation. Attorneys for the church asked a federal court judge Tuesday not to allow the tribal court to hear the siblings' case, saying it is an unfair burden to require the church to litigate in a venue that doesn't have criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members.

    "They can file their suit in Utah courts, the proper forum, and seek relief there," attorney David Williams wrote.