In the October 2022 General Conference, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated, “As president of the Church, I affirm the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ on this issue. Let me be perfectly clear: any kind of abuse of women, children, or anyone is an abomination to the Lord. … For decades now, the Church has taken extensive measures to protect — in particular — children from abuse. ... The Savior will not tolerate abuse, and as His disciples, neither can we.”
I have heard similar General Conference messages for decades. Yet new abuse allegations are reported regularly. This two-minute sound-bite is merely damage control. “His disciples” continue to tolerate abuse.
Recent articles by Michael Rezendes of the Associated Press detail the prolonged incestuous abuse of offspring by a church member. The articles document church leaders and help-line lawyers who placed allegiance to the church above following Christ’s teachings. The systemic moral failures by leadership and lawyers shielded this patriarchal predator from legal accountability, allowing the abuse to continue for seven years.
Instead of introspection and positive change, the church released rebuttals attempting to obfuscate, minimize culpability and protect the good name of the church. For decades, the church has discouraged reporting of abusers to law enforcement and pressured local leaders and victims to shroud abuse in secrecy.
Secrecy is a cancer. Predators exploit secrecy. Victims are effectively revictimized while perpetrators remain unrepentant and legally unaccountable.
Why do the brethren tolerance abuse? This single case will cost the church millions. Add the church’s $250 million settlement offer toward sexual abuse claims in church-sponsored Boy Scouts of America troops. Include recent abuse settlements and future litigation. Yet the brethren persist in carelessly jeopardizing sacred tithing funds.
A December 1, 2015, news release stated, “The 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 Church’s approach is the gold standard.”
Nelson’s words and the AP articles dispute the truth of these claims.
The news release ends by quoting Matthew 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 Savior condemns both perpetrators and all those who shield them from the full consequences of their actions.
President Nelson, you are in a position to effectively end abuse in the church. Prior to the help line, local leaders were directed to contact law enforcement in abuse circumstances. Clearly reinstate that directive and establish mandatory reporting in the general handbook. Direct the church’s law firm to advise local leaders to always report suspected abuse to law enforcement. Unlike lay leaders, law enforcement has the expertise to investigate these cases.
Require membership withdrawal for convicted sexual abusers and First Presidency approval of rebaptism. Require and pay for regular background checks for every adult worldwide who works with our children and youth. Commit sufficient church assets to establish and fully fund genuine “gold standard” victim recovery and abuse prevention programs with training for leaders, parents, teens and children.
Denounce misguided modesty culture ideas including: that girls and women are responsible for men’s thoughts and actions and that boys and men cannot control themselves. Emphasize that everyone is responsible for their own thoughts and actions.
These measures are the minimum needed to protect our children. Anything less perpetuates abuse. These changes will help identify abusers early, protect potential victims, limit abuse opportunities and reduce potential liability.
The 2015 movie “Spotlight” details the Catholic priest abuse investigation by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, of which Rezendes was a member. A poignant line from the movie states, “Mark my words, Mr. Rezendes, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
Our children are beloved by the Savior. Our village is entrusted to protect and raise each child in righteousness. We will no longer sustain “His disciples” who tolerate abuse of our children.
Dave Winslow, Centerville, is a father and grandfather who believes our community must love and protect all children.