Portland attorney Kelly Clark talks about child sexual abuse in church organizations. A lot of people, especially members of the media, are reluctant to ask questions about Mitt Romney's LDS affiliation. It's frequently compared to religious
August 7, 2012

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Portland attorney Kelly Clark talks about child sexual abuse in church organizations.

A lot of people, especially members of the media, are reluctant to ask questions about Mitt Romney's LDS affiliation. It's frequently compared to religious prejudice against Jack Kennedy's Catholic faith. No big deal, we're so much more enlightened now. End of story, right?

I'm not so sure. The difference is, Jack Kennedy wasn't a Catholic bishop. But if he were, and we knew about the problem of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and the extensive coverup by the church hierarchy, wouldn't some enterprising member of the media ask at least a few questions?

Because there is an extensive problem with such abuse in the Mormon church, and Mitt Romney was a bishop. From 1986 to 1994, he was president of the Boston stake, which is similar to a Catholic diocese. "Before that, Romney was bishop, similar to a lay pastor, of congregations in Belmont and Cambridge. Each job included both organizational work and counseling."

And guess what? The Mormon church leaders consistently discouraged victims from reporting such crimes to authorities. They now claim to have strict rules on reporting, but the very structure of the LDS community makes it difficult to know whether it's made a difference, because it's hard to measure what isn't reported.

After all, unlike the Catholic church, LDS members literally stand to lose everything if they insist on bringing criminal charges against the advice of their bishop or stake holder -- or even make allegations within the church community. (Especially when the perpetrator is a bishop.)

Like the Catholic church, the Mormons frequently denied and covered up for perpetrators, who would simply move to another part of the country and start abusing again. (The church now keeps a registry of the accused, making it more difficult.) Also like the Catholic church, bishops frequently accepted "repentance" as a reasonable solution to accusations. Unlike the Catholic church, though, the Mormons are much more likely to pay settlements to accusers. They really don't like bad publicity -- although they're not above trying to protect themselves financially.

Kelly Clark, a Portland OR attorney specializing in child sexual abuse cases, points out:

The structure of the LDS Church has contributed to the problem. By this statement, I mean that, unlike, say, the Catholic Church, with its rigid hierarchy of ministry and its well-defined concept of who is a “minister,” the Mormon Church’s local leadership structure—Stake Presidents and Bishops being lay, not professional, ministers, and serving on a rotating, and not permanent, basis— made it harder for the Church to educate, train and supervise the local leadership to screen, monitor and supervise those who are in a position to abuse children. Additionally, given the large number of church tasks delegated by the Church to its members via “callings”—home teachers, Sunday School teachers, quorum leaders, bishoprics, Scout leaders, etc—the number of “relationships of trust” between “official” church leaders and children are many times the number in other churches and youth organizations.

The LDS Church’s response to child abuse in its midst, until relatively recently, did not materially differ from that of other churches—the Catholics, the Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and others. There was historically a consistent tendency to try to bury the problem, to encourage or coerce victims to stay silent, to “let the Bishop handle it” and other similar responses, when an allegation of child abuse arose. Of course, as in any religious context, in the Mormon culture there immediately arose for a victim or for his or her family a kind of conflict of interest, or religious duress, where to take action to report or prosecute an abuser could be seen as attacking or harming the Church. This kind of dilemma for victims and their families, in any religious setting, is always deeply tormenting, even traumatic, especially when in the context of a church such as the LDS, where loyalty to the Church was expected to be complete.

He does go on to say the LDS church is doing a much better job of training their members to prevent and recognize abuse. Still, it apparently happens enough that law firms specialize in it.

The LDS church has a very close relationship with the Boy Scouts; Mormon boys are expected to join. The scouting program became even more of a pedophile magnet than usual, and many of the worst sexual abuse cases involve the Scouts.

Part of what contributes to repression and shame about sex is the fact that Mormon bishops frequently ask members of their church some fairly creepy questions during private interviews, all related to however the bishop interprets this question: "Do you live the law of chastity?"

Children as young as 8 years old are asked if they masturbate. Children as young as 12 years old are asked if they masturbate or have "petted" or have "necked" with a partner. Many Mormon children have no idea what any of these terms are. If the child has committed any of these "sins", they are pressed for details. Many are then scorned and told that their acts will lead them to hell. Those who have masturbated are then denied the sacrament and must then be interviewed by the Bishop on a weekly basis until the masturbation has stopped. Mormon children grow up sexually repressed and many grow up emotionally insecure about their own sexuality.

Parents are not allowed in the room at the same time these sexual questions are asked. Mormon parents are not allowed to question Mormon Priesthood authority and do not hesitate to turn their male and female children over to men behind closed doors.

Oh, and this adult male gets to ask all kinds of necessary details, like what position you're in when you masturbate. How about asking an eight-year-old girl if she's had sexual intercourse with a male OR female, or if she's looked at pornography? Yeah, that's some twisted stuff.

I can see why someone given that kind of all-encompassing, far-too-intimate authority -- with no required training in pastoral counseling or psychology -- might begin to think of himself as a minor god, above reproach. It certainly explains a lot about Mitt Romney's sense of entitlement.

Next: Would Romney's Temple oath conflict with the oath of office?


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