A number of major organizations, both religious and secular, are coming under fire for long histories of sexual abuse that are only now coming to light. The Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal has dominated headlines for predator priests among its ranks, but other religious institutions have been implicated as well, including the Mormon church.
Mormons belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as LDS. It is a loose subset of Christianity founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith with the publication of the Book of Mormon, its distinguishing sacred text. There are more than 15 million members of the Mormon church worldwide.
What Are Mormon Beliefs?
Mormons share many common Christian beliefs and consider themselves Christians. They believe in the crucifixion, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus Christ, though they do not believe in the Trinity, and thus believe that Jesus is separate from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Some non-Mormon Christians, mostly evangelicals and fundamentalists, according to PBS, consider Mormonism to be outside Christian teachings.
Mormons believe that God sent many more prophets to earth after Jesus’s death. The writings of these prophets are collected in The Book of Mormon, one of the church’s four core texts. The others are the Christian Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
The Mormon church has a three-tiered understanding of heaven: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. While many may get to heaven, only those at the celestial level will live alongside God.
In life, Mormons follow a number of health and lifestyle requirements that do not allow them to consume alcohol or caffeine. Core lifestyle values include family life, good deeds, respect for authority, and missionary work.
There is also a smaller branch of LDS known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that retains the otherwise outdated Mormon practice of polygamy.
Cases of Mormon Abuse
A growing number of survivors are coming forward with allegations of child sex abuse within the Mormon church.
Several families have alleged that even after reporting sexual abuse by a teen church leader, the Mormon church failed to protect their children, according to ABC News.
In February, a Mormon church bishop and driver’s ed teacher in Oregon pleaded guilty to six counts of third-degree sex abuse stemming from assaults on several of his teen students. Paul Douglas Burdick was sentenced to six months in the county jail, KATU-TV reported.
A woman whose husband confessed to LDS church leaders that he’d had “inappropriate sexual contact” with his minor daughter has filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging that her husband’s “confession-like communications” should have been kept confidential, TIME reports.
Accounts of abuse within the church date back decades, with survivors confiding in trusted church leaders who they thought would protect them and hold the accused accountable, but often to no avail. Such is the case of a woman who says her father raped her as a child as a form of punishment. When she reported the abuse, church leaders left the issue “in the hands of God,” according to a report in The Guardian.
The Mormon church has also been accused of attempting to hide claims of sexual abuse by funneling the reports to church lawyers before the allegations are reported to the police, according to a 2019 investigation by VICE News.
Mormon Leader in Jail for Sexual Abuse Charges
Warren Jeffs, president of a polygamist fundamentalist denomination of the Mormon church, is serving a life sentence plus 20 years for child sexual assault. His lawyers recently filed a motion with the court arguing that Jeffs isn’t fit to give a deposition in the case against him due to a mental breakdown and that forcing him to testify would be “futile.”
An attorney for the plaintiff in the current case against him argued that “there is no evidence to support the claim that Jeffs isn’t mentally competent,” according to CBS News.
How Does Abuse Happen In a Religious Organization?
Legal change around the country has given victims more opportunity to file civil claims of sexual abuse. Such changes, like look-back window extensions, have happened in states including New York, New Jersey, California, and many others. These states have chosen to raise the statute of limitations for such claims, acknowledging that in many cases, it takes many years for a victim to come to terms with their abuse and decide that they do indeed want to take legal action against an abuser or an associated organization.
Now, thousands of claims have been filed around the country, working to take religious organizations to task for their supposed role in enabling sexual abuse, or for not doing enough to respond after it occurs. The Mormon Church is just one organization that has faced these claims.
In the case of the Catholic Church, victims have claimed many times over that the church engaged in a cover up, allowing clergy who have been accused to keep their jobs. In the eyes of critics, the organization put its reputation and power ahead of the safety, emotional distress and healing of victims.
Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is far from the only religious organization to face such accusations. These claims have prompted news sources, experts, and the public alike to question what elements have led to what many call an epidemic of sexual abuse.
In the case of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, critics have asserted that both organizational culture and procedures around sexual abuse discourage or prevent victims from coming forward. According to one victim in the Southern Baptist Convention, the organization puts religious officials above all other authority figures, including law enforcement. Critics have said that organizations with strong authoritarian culture, in which participants are told to trust authority, might have cultures conducive to sexual abuse, leading potential victims to be vulnerable and unable to stand up for themselves.
Victim Offered Compensation Only if She Kept Quiet
Amy Hall was just 10 years old when a Mormon bishop allegedly started to show favoritism towards her. Hall told Healthline that she was given extra candy and paid compliments about how special she was as the bishop groomed her into believing it was okay for her to lift up her dress and remove her undergarments for him.
Hall said she was sexually assaulted for years. She was unable to tell anyone because the bishop convinced her that if she told a soul, someone would die as a result of her sharing their secret.
Now 58 years old, Hall said she continues to fight PTSD and depression over the abuse.
“I continue to struggle,” said Hall, who was in her late twenties when she first revealed the trauma to a counselor. “My abuser took so much from my childhood and never faced any consequences for his actions.”
Hall said when she was a teenager, she once tried to obtain help from another church leader who refused to further the conversation as soon as he heard name of the abuser. She said she felt the church leader already knew about the bishop’s propensities and didn’t want to hear the details of the sexual abuse she had suffered.
The Mormon church purportedly offered her a modest amount in monetary compensation, but that payment was promised only if she never spoke to anyone of the abuse again. Hall said she would not agree to keep quiet.
Should You File a Mormon Lawsuit?
If you or someone you love has suffered abuse at the hands of a leader in the Mormon church, you may be able to file a Mormon church lawsuit and pursue compensation. Filing a lawsuit can be a daunting prospect, so Top Class Actions has laid the groundwork by connecting you with an experienced attorney. Consulting an attorney can help you determine if you have a claim, navigate the complexities of litigation, and maximize your potential compensation.
Join a Free Church Sex Abuse Lawsuit Investigation
If you or a loved one were a victim of religious sexual abuse, you may be able to take legal action against your perpetrator and others who turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse. Use the form on this page to submit information about your clergy sexual abuse.
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