The Arizona Republic - April 24, 2011
Experts: Church erred in Brock sex case
Church leaders held back key details, officials say
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.
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.
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.
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