Accountability for the Mormon church & 7 years of sex abuse

How to protect children as a Mormon and/or as a US citizen

Christopher Diep
7 min readAug 29, 2022

Note: I originally wrote this more for my friends who choose to stay in the church. Ultimately, I did write it for myself because it was therapeutic in a way.

Photo by Rene Bernal on Unsplash

Introduction

To my friend and any interested person:

I became sick and concerned when reading the Associated Press article and the first church statement. I hope this would clear my head and stop letting that lingering feeling bother me.

The tone of the article came across to me as neutral.

Joseph Osmond, one of the Kirton McConkie lawyers assigned to take help line calls, said in a sealed deposition that he’s always ready to deal with sex abuse complaints.

“Wherever I am. The call comes to my cell phone,” he said. He then acknowledged that he did not refer calls to a social worker and wouldn’t know how to do so.

Source: Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen by Michael Rezendes

The journalist shared the relevant detail that the lawyer was not provided a resource to ensure the well-being of the children. It could be a possible improvement to ensure that the church can take the necessary steps to protect rape victims.

The tone of the first church statement came across to me as defensive.

The story presented in the AP article is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts.

Source: Church Offers Statement on Help Line and Abuse

It did not address the two children mentioned in the AP article. It did not suggest that the church has any opportunities for improvement in its stated purposes: 1. Help protect others, 2. Help a person access the redeeming power of Jesus Christ through repentance, and 3. Protect the integrity of the Church. (Source: Three Purposes of Church Membership Restrictions or Withdrawal from General Handbook 32.2) It suggested the fault is in the Associated Press.

“Who should be held accountable for this?”

My personal reason for resigning from the church is that it no longer meets the emotional needs I had when I was 16 years old. The church statement reminds me of a similar unhealthy relationship. This person took no responsibility for their behavior. This person suggested that I was completely at fault and am responsible for changing. If I have a bias, that unhealthy relationship is the source of the bias.

This Medium article will present the organizational structure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon church. It will cover how it is set up as a corporation sole. It will discuss key passages from the Articles of Incorporation. It will then discuss the Common Council. It is also known as the Presiding Bishop’s Court and “can try a member of the First Presidency for crime or neglect of duty — D&C 107:76, 82–83.” (Source: Priesthood and Church Government by John A. Widtsoe/Amazon link) I will then refer to historical cases. Lastly, I will suggest how members of the church could proceed with this specific case of child rape victims.

For those outside the church, I will offer a suggestion because the extremism in this country appears to be getting worse, and this clergy-penitent privilege could be abused by another religion in the United States. Hopefully, people share some of the same values in the United States, if not humanity.

For those outside the church, you could skip ahead to the Suggestions for Moving Forward part and In the United States section near the end.

Articles of Incorporation

Simply put, a corporation sole ensures the assets are held by the officeholder instead of a person. The church used to have two corporations sole: the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop and the Corporation of the President. Now, it is one corporation sole. (Source: Article in The Salt Lake Tribune)

The state of Utah received an Amended and Restated Articles of Incorporation of Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on June 19, 2019. The corporation sole is now named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Article Fifth describes the event of a vacancy of the President of the Church.

In the event of a vacancy in the office of President of the Church for any reason, including such individual’s death, excommunication, resignation or release from office pursuant to the revelations, rites, practices and polity of the Church

Source: Articles of Incorporation

This article describes that an individual in the office of the President of the Church could leave that office vacant in the cases of death, excommunication, resignation, or release.

Common Council

The Common Council is referenced in Doctrine & Covenants section 107, verses 82–84.

And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;

And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.

Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness.

This could be how the “release from office pursuant to the relevations, rites, practices and polity of the Church” can occur. (Source: Articles of Incorporation)

The best source for this Common Council of the Church comes from Wikipedia. I will specifically share the latest version at the time of writing this from April 15, 2021.

The Wikipedia article cites John A. Widtsoe and his work Priesthood and Church Government.

Should occasion ever arise that one of the First Presidency must be tried for crime or neglect of duty, his case would come before the Presiding Bishop with his counselors, and twelve High Priests especially chosen for the purpose. This would be a tribunal extraordinary from which there is no appeal.

Source: Priesthood and Church Government by John A. Widtsoe/Amazon link

Negligence or neglect of duty could call for the Common Council of the Church to try the First Presidency.

Summary of Historical Cases

The April 15, 2021 Wikipedia article lists the two times this Common Council convened to try: 1. Joseph Smith in 1834 and 2. Sidney Rigdon in 1844.

I will state my conclusions on how the Common Council can convene. Please refer to the sources cited in the article and Widtsoe’s book Priesthood and Church Government to come to your own conclusions.

Someone within the church can bring forth charges against a member of the First Presidency. The Presiding Bishop with his counselors can convene a common council to consider the case. Twelve High Priests, not necessarily apostles, could be part of this council.

Suggestions for Moving Forward

In the Mormon church

Someone within the church can bring forth charges against Nelson for neglect of duty. The Associated Press article refers to sealed documents. The sealed documents say the help line operates in the Office of Risk Management, not the Department of Family Services. The Office of Risk Management ultimately reports to the First Presidency.

Nelson may not have been President at the time. However, I could make the case that he may be neglecting his duties when it comes to the criminal investigation by Chochise County attorney and the civil lawsuit by the three child victims. This investigation and lawsuit are currently happening right now. Nelson’s account has a tweet chronologically after the article. The tweet does not mention the article at all.

It is up to Caussé to choose whether or not to convene a common council. The trial would occur if one is convened. Based on the limited evidence, I would say there is neglect by the whole First Presidency. Neglect could be grounds for releasing them from their office. However, that is not my call to make. It is up to the common council if Caussé chooses to convene one.

I doubt there is any malice or crime. However, I am open to the possibility. The lack of transparency within the church does not allow any outside observer to draw a conclusion either way.

In the United States

In 2019, a Newsweek article and a US Department of Health and Human Services publication note that there are 44 states with the clergy-penitent privilege.

I currently reside in the state of New York. I found that there is a bill to make clergy mandatory reporters in the New York Senate. I̶ ̶w̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶e̶b̶s̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶S̶e̶n̶a̶t̶e̶ ̶B̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶S̶1̶3̶9̶9̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶w̶e̶d̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶s̶u̶p̶p̶o̶r̶t̶.̶ ̶I̶ ̶s̶u̶g̶g̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶N̶e̶w̶ ̶Y̶o̶r̶k̶e̶r̶s̶ ̶d̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶a̶m̶e̶.̶ (Edit on Sept 4, 2022: I’m not a lawyer but I notice additional text suggesting that there would be a clergy-penitent privilege. There’s work for me to do.)

For residents of other states, please offer your support to make clergy mandatory reporters. If not, consider making clergy mandatory reporters when ongoing abuse is suspected. This would make it more similar to the attorney-client privilege. (This idea comes at about the 20 minute mark in this Mormon Land podcast.)

Additionally, I emailed the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the US Department of Health and Human Services. They recommended making changes on a local level by contacting the local county child welfare agency. Plus, they shared a list of public policy organizations.

Please take a look and decide on how you can help protect children.

Thank you,

Christopher Diep

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