Seven years. That’s how long MJ’s mother knew that MJ’s father, Paul Douglas Adams, had been sexually abusing her. According to a recent report by the Associate Press, the abuse the MJ and her sisters endured went on for years before authorities were alerted. MJ’s mother, Leizza Adams, and her family were members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and attended services in their hometown of Bisbee, Arizona. So instead of contacting the police, she went to her bishop and told him about the abuse. His response? Do not act on the information. “Let’s forgive and forget Paul,” Bishop John Herrod said. The Associated Press reports that Adams then went on to abuse MJ’s six-week-old infant sister.
Why didn’t Bishop Herrod report Adams to the police?
After a direct confession by Adams himself, Bishop Herrod reportedly followed church protocol and recounted the abuse to the Mormon Abuse Help Line. This help line, originally implemented in 1995, is only available to bishops and stake presidents to report misconduct by church affiliates. Calls to the help line are answered by social workers or professional counselors. If a call contains information about a sexual assault, according to the AP report the caller is then transferred to the law office of Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City firm that represents the LDS church. When Bishop Herrod reported Adams’ abuse of his daughter, he was informed that the state’s “clergy-penitent privilege” required him to keep the abuse confidential. This is not a legal requirement. Arizona, the state where Adams was abusing his children, is one of more than twenty states that require clergy to report child sex abuse and neglect. But Herrod was apparently instructed by the church’s legal counsel to keep quiet or otherwise face legal liability. Adams continued to molest his children for years until he was finally arrested.
In response to several lawsuits against the LDS church for failure to protect children from sexual abusers, many are calling loudly for a reform to the church’s help line policies. Instead of functioning as a tool to remove child abusers from the ranks of the church, the help line has essentially functioned as a way to sweep the abuse under the rug and protect the church from liability. Associated Press staff analyzed 12,000 pages of unsealed documents from another case against the LDS church in connection with child abuse. Within these files they discovered written protocol that provides directions to the help line staff on how to respond to calls of abuse allegations. Many of these instructions encourage secrecy. For example, callers are instructed to only use their first names. Furthermore, all of the calls received on this help line are destroyed at the end of each day. Those taking the calls are told to instruct “priesthood leaders,” including bishops and state presidents, to encourage the perpetrator, victim, or others who know about the abuse to report it. But most strikingly, with those instructions comes a caveat in all capital letters: “NEVER ADVISE A PRIESTHOOD LEADER TO REPORT ABUSE.”
Under the auspices of attorney-client and attorney-clergy privilege, the LDS church has allowed child sex abuse to remain rampant among its members. The LDS church should no longer be able to protect itself from liability for the harm it has enabled for decades.
Attorneys at Crew Janci have many years of experience litigating sexual abuse claims against religious entities. We strive to help our clients heal and gain closure through holding these entities accountable for the harm they perpetuate. If you or someone you know has been a victim of abuse by someone affiliated with the LDS church, contact us today for a free confidential consultation. We are here to help.