LDS Church hits back even harder at AP, cites ‘egregious errors’ in sex abuse article

News agency says it “stands by its story” as reporter explains why he believes bishop knew of ongoing abuse.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Church Office Building on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Utah-based faith issued an even stronger rebuke of an Associated Press investigation of a child sex abuse case.

A recent Associated Press article about a horrific case of child sexual abuse by a Latter-day Saint father in Arizona has “significant flaws in its facts and timeline, which lead to erroneous conclusions,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Wednesday evening in a scathing critique of the piece.

It was the Utah-based faith’s second response to the AP article published Aug. 4, written and reported by Michael Rezendes, a member of The Boston Globe’s investigative team that won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing clergy abuse in the Catholic Church.

The LDS Church’s initial response called the AP article an “oversimplified and incomplete” story about the faith’s handling of child sex abuse cases, but did not supply any examples of what was wrong with it.

Rezendes’ reporting centered on Paul Adams, a one-time Latter-day Saint in Bisbee, Ariz., who raped his two young daughters for years, then posted videos of his acts on the internet. He later was arrested and took his own life while in custody.

[Hear what reporter Michael Rezendes has to say about his story on our “Mormon Land” podcast.]

Adams’ confessed to his lay Latter-day Saint bishop, the AP story stated, but the bishop said he was advised by the church’s help line that he did not have to report to the police, because the leader learned about them in a priest/penitent encounter.

Three of Adams’ children have sued the church, arguing it could have stopped the abuse had the church reported it.

The church now has issued a more forceful denunciation of the AP, posted on the church’s newsroom site, decrying what it called “egregious errors in reporting and editing.”

Lauren Easton, vice president of AP corporate communications, responded, telling the church-owned Deseret News that it “stands by its story.” The Salt Lake Tribune also reached out to the news agency.

The church listed what it says are facts “contained in public filings in the pending case” and “taken from the testimony of Leizza Adams, mother of the victims.”

According to the church:

• Adams made a “limited confession about a single past incident of abuse of one child” to the bishop in late 2011.

• The help line told the bishop “how to fully comply with Arizona’s reporting laws.”

• The bishop “repeatedly tried to intervene and encourage reporting.” Both Adams and his wife, the church said, declined to report the abuse or seek professional help, “which would trigger a mandatory report.”

• Adams had not been actively participating in the church before or after the confession and, in 2013, was excommunicated for his behavior.

• It was not until 2017 that church leaders learned “the extent of the abuse” from media reports.

“The AP story ignores this timeline and sequence of events and implies that all these facts were known by a bishop as early as 2011,” according to the church’s latest release, “a clearly erroneous conclusion.”

Earlier Wednesday, Rezendes said on The Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast he disputes the idea that the bishop didn’t know the abuse was ongoing.

In interviews with federal agents, the bishop said Adams was “coming in on a regular basis for counseling,” the journalist said. “At one point, the bishop called in … Adam’s wife and made him tell her about the abuse so she would know what was going on if she didn’t already, so that she could make some attempt to help protect their children.”

The bishop told the agents, according to Rezendes, “as these counseling sessions continued, one of the purposes was to see whether the abuse had stopped.”

As to reporting child abuse, Arizona law does not require the permission of perpetrators in order to turn them in. It also does not mandate that clergy-penitent confessions of such matters remain confidential, the AP story noted. Instead, it says clergy who hear of abuse during confessions “may withhold” that information from authorities if the church leaders determine it is “reasonable and necessary” under a faith’s doctrine.

For its part, the LDS Church rejects any suggestion that its help line discourages reporting, its release said. “Even when a report is not required or is even prohibited by law (because the confession is ‘owned’ by the confessor), the help line encourages leaders to pursue ways to ensure [the goals of helping victims] are met.”

The suggestion that there would be any incentive on the part of the help line attorneys “to cover up child abuse,” the church said, “is absurd.”

This church’s strong response to the AP article, the release explained, is because there can be “no tolerance for any suggestion that we are neglectful or not doing enough on the issue of child abuse,” it said. “It is a matter that strikes at our hearts and is so deeply offensive to everything that we value. We will not stand by while others mischaracterize or completely misrepresent the church’s long-term efforts and commitment. Nor will we tolerate The Associated Press or any other media to make such gross errors on the details of such a tragic and horrific incident as what occurred in Arizona.”

Latter-day Saint leaders “are constantly striving to be better and do more,” the release stated, “and we invite others to join us in such efforts.”