Skip to main content

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church) has an unfortunate history of being involved in and covering up sexual abuse, especially against children. This can take many different forms, from the church being aware of the abuse but not taking any action, to individuals in positions of power within the church committing acts of sexual abuse. Some even assert that it is the culture of the LDS Church that creates an environment where sexual abuse continues to exist. The following are three cases of childhood sexual abuse that occurred within or concerning the LDS Church and exemplify how the Church has historically covered up incidents of sexual abuse. Additionally, it is important to note that while the following three cases are all stories of women who survived sexual abuse, anyone can experience this.

Case 1: Chelsea Goodrich

The first case explored does not involve sexual abuse explicitly within a church setting. However, the actions of church officials after learning of the abuse and years later demonstrate the way that the LDS Church has, in many cases, done everything in its power to keep sexual abuse concerning the church quiet.

When Chelsea Goodrich was a child, she experienced repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her father, John Goodrich. John was a bishop in the LDS church at the time and confessed to multiple church leaders about what he had done. Despite this, no action was taken by the church until years later when Chelsea, in her 20s, realized what had happened to her as a child. In 2015, Chelsea told her mother what she remembered and, together, they confronted her father about it. His response drew from the beliefs of the LDS Church—while he admitted what he did in part, he blamed the devil for his actions, not taking responsibility for what he had done. It was at this point that John also told Chelsea that he had “repented” to church leaders, though they denied having any knowledge of the abuse or confessions. 

Chelsea and her mother recorded the conversations confronting John and brought this recording to the police. John was arrested. Ten days later, another woman came forward, reporting that she had also been raped by John. The case was taken up by the District Attorney, but it was lacking evidence. Luckily, a bishop in the LDS church, Michael Miller, came forward saying that just days before John was arrested, John had confessed to him about the abuse. The prosecutor told Chelsea that if Miller testified, they would have a case.  

This is where problems started to arise. Chelsea and her mother met with the Church’s lawyer, Paul Rytting, to ask if the church would allow Bishop Miller to testify. They recorded these conversations, creating an undeniable record of what happened. Citing a law regarding the confidentiality of confessions to clergy, Rytting said, in essence, that Miller wouldn’t be able to testify. When Chelsea explained the situation regarding the necessity of Miller’s testimony, Rytting said that he would check records from the phone line that the LDS Church uses for clergy to report sexual abuse in the church (called the Helpline). This statement by Rytting raises some red flags in and of itself—in a sexual abuse case in West Virginia regarding the Church, Rytting had testified under oath that no one at the Helpline kept records. Additionally, another ranking church official stated that there were records, but they were destroyed at the end of each day. These three conflicting statements certainly call into question the truthfulness of the LDS Church regarding their knowledge of sexual abuse cases.

Regardless, the actions taken by Rytting after this initial conversation show the Church’s determination to keep issues of sexual abuse within the church quiet. In a following conversation, Rytting said the Church could offer Chelsea and her mother $300,000. In exchange, Chelsea would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) requiring Chelsea to a) not use the abuse that she experienced as a child to sue the church; b) never acknowledge the existence of the settlement; and c) destroy the recordings of the meetings within 10 days. The recordings of this meeting reveal exactly what Rytting said. 

“First of all, I sent you a letter indicating that the church was prepared to assist up to $90,000. I’ve been back, and I explained a little bit more detail to those who make these decisions and indicated that one of the best ways we can help you…is to try to figure a way to…one of the things that you pleaded for is just can we have some, this little stability. And so, I have authorization up to $300,000. And I want to talk to you about that though, because how you decide to spend that is…could be complicated.”

Following this, Rytting explained the terms of the settlement and the NDA. Ultimately, Chelsea decided not to take the money. 

Because the LDS Church did not allow Miller to testify, Chelsea’s case was dropped, and she never got the justice she was seeking. Additionally, John Goodrich was never held accountable for what he did. Today, he remains free and is practicing dentistry in Idaho, still working with and around children in this setting. 

Case 2: Missionary Training Center President

The second case examined here involves abuse within the church itself. This case demonstrates how sexual abuse within the LDS Church has been a widespread issue, as well as how the Church fails to act when learning about abuse. Because the survivor’s name is not public, she will be referred to as “Jane”.

Going on a mission is an important part of growing up in the LDS Church. In the 1980s, Jane was attending the Missionary Training Center, preparing to go on her mission. Here, she experienced sexual abuse at the hands of the president of the training center, Joseph Bishop. Part of Bishop’s role as president at the Training Center was to counsel female missionaries, including those who had experienced sexual assault and described having flashbacks. At the time, Bishop made it clear to church officials that he did not want to have this role, feeling that it was wrong for him to be in this position. Additionally, he did not feel as though he was qualified or prepared to take on this role. Because of this, he repeatedly asked his superiors to hire a professional counselor who could counsel female missionaries. However, his supervisors continued to say no. 

Jane was one of the women that Bishop counseled. She believes that he was grooming her, complimenting her, and making her feel close to him as a way to take advantage of her. She explains that, eventually, Bishop attempted to assault her. Bishop took her into a private room, asked to see her breasts, and tried to rape her. Years later, when Bishop was 85 years old, Jane met with him under the guise of an interview. She confronted him about what he had done, recording the conversation. He stated that he did not remember doing this but apologized repeatedly, describing himself as a predator. Additionally, he told Jane that he had confessed to the LDS Church about grooming and sexually abusing other women while in his role as president. However, the Church did not take any action. Despite their knowledge of his position of power and influence, as well as his prior crimes, the Church allowed Bishop to stay on as president in the same role, with the same access to young women.

Case 3: A Culture of Abuse

The third case looked at has parallels with the first case, both in the story of the survivor’s experience and in the way that the LDS Church failed to take any significant action to address the situation and seek justice. Additionally, the survivor in this case explains how the Church itself can create a culture that allows sexual abuse to continue. Once again, the name of the survivor is not public, so she will be referred to as “Emily”. 

When Emily was a child, both she and her sister were sexually abused by their father. He was a religious man who was involved with the LDS Church and thus justified the abuse of both Emily and her sister through Church teachings. He said to Emily, “Mary was impregnated by God the Father. That’s why Mary had to have sex with God.” Emily did not remember the abuse she experienced until much later when she was in her 20s. When she did, she reported this abuse to local church leaders, hoping to get help.

However, no significant action was taken. After their conversation with Emily, church leaders confronted Emily’s father about the abuse. Unsurprisingly, he denied it. In response to Emily’s report, she received a three-page letter from the Stake president discussing the action he had taken and explaining that he would not be doing anything else. In this letter, he stated: “Anticipating his denial [of the accusations], I had reached the conclusion that [the Church] would not [take disciplinary action] unless he admitted and confessed to the accusations against him.” He further explained that there was nothing else the church leaders could do to address the crimes of Emily’s father. Instead, he said that “as far as Church discipline was concerned, the issue was closed and [Emily’s father] was in the hands of God.” In essence, the Church would not take any action. 

In discussing her story, Emily explained that the LDS Church not only covers up sexual abuse but creates an environment where it can continue to occur. The Church shames women who have sex; one survivor explained that she was taught that women who have sex out of wedlock are like a “chewed-up piece of gum”. Unsurprisingly, this results in a culture where women who experience sexual abuse feel significant guilt and shame for what was done to them. Additionally, the LDS Church encourages modesty in a way that blames women for men’s actions. On the LDS official website, it reads:

“Revealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skits, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violated the Lord’s law of chastity.”

This rhetoric makes it women’s responsibility to control men’s actions. Additionally, Emily explains that the Mormon community tends to only focus on “the good”, using this to “ignore and deny the bad” (such as sexual abuse). She says, “People want to believe it’s not a problem in their community, certainly not in God’s chosen church.” However, it is this kind of denial, in conjunction with the secrecy and shame perpetuated by the LDS Church, that leads to sexual abuse continuing to occur.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of abuse within the LDS Church and seeks support or information about available options, please contact us today.

You are not alone. We are here to help.

Risa Saulino

Risa is a rising senior at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in Political Science – Public Law and minoring in Law and Society. Risa has always been passionate about advocating for others. She spent her sophomore and junior years working at UC San Diego’s Cross-Cultural Center, educating the UCSD community about social justice issues, and this past spring, she interned at Rising for Justice in Washington, D.C., providing legal assistance to low-income D.C. residents. Risa is grateful for the opportunity to work with Crew Janci and help advocate for justice for their clients. In her free time, Risa enjoys baking, playing piano, and spending time outdoors.