When Christ was sending out his disciples to work as missionaries, he told them “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Latter-day Saints need to be wiser when dealing with the wolves among us.
There are numerous stories about confidence men among members of the LDS Church who take advantage of the trust we have for each other to sell us bad investments and bogus goods. The Mark Hoffman saga was to a large extent a story of credulity toward a member of the Church who claimed to have found significant artifacts of the early Church. People who sexually abuse children are master manipulators, and insinuate themselves into family friendships and Church and youth organizations, such as the Boy Scouts.
As an attorney, I learned that jurors and people in general have an exaggerated confidence in their ability to judge whether someone is lying to them or not, based solely on the person’s demeanor. They do not understand that there are criminals with little conscience who therefore do not manifest the signs of a guilty conscience, because their conscience has already been strangled in its cradle. They can lie to your face and look no different than a truly innocent person. The only way to determine whether a person is lying or not is to weigh objective evidence about the facts, as well as the testimony of others. People who are capable of murder, rape, armed robbery or abuse of a child view lying to protect themselves as the easy part of their enterprise, and they get off on the kick of evading capture or conviction.
Remember that Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer of women and girls, was a successful law student at the University of Utah when he was first arrested as a suspect. (He was in the class a year ahead of me.) He charmed women into being alone with him, where he could then attack them. He charmed his way into associations with other people, even to the point of going through the process of claiming to be converted to the LDS Church. We can be thankful that it does not appear that he ever used his Church connection to facilitate one of his murders.
As Latter-day Saints, we are often optimistic about the goodness and sincerity and potential for repentance of even those who are called up before a bishopric or high council for Church discipline. Unless we are police, criminal law attorneys, or in some other profession where we deal with felons, we can have an unrealistic view of how easy it is to repent of certain serious offenses.
For example, I once sat on a high council which was presented the matter of a Melchizidek Priesthood holder who had been charged with sexual abuse of one of his step-daughters. He had not yet gone to trial. He came in and made a presentation admitting that he had acted improperly to some extent, but denying that he had done anything to any of the other children. During our deliberations, I explained to the other members of the high council that because such crimes are connected to sexual behavior and feelings, the temptation to commit them is very strong, and that pedophiles lie to themselves as well as others about how much self-restraint they can exercise when alone with a vulnerable child.
Indeed, any aberrant behavior that becomes associated in the actor’s mind and heart with his or her sexual urges is almost impossible to eradicate, as illustrated by same-sex attraction. I explained that the normal pattern of behavior for pedophiles is that, as soon as they are denied contact with one victim, they will turn to the next one available, and that the other children in the family were at serious risk. Sometimes the triggering event for a victim reporting sexual abuse is when the abuser moves on to victimize the younger sibling of the first victim. What often makes it worse is that the spouse sees this behavior as so terrible, and the contemplation of their collaborating in it so guilt-producing, that they often tend to fall into denial, which facilitates continuation of the abuse. The patterns of behavior are illustrated in the cases of Catholic priests who abused children and were not disciplined by their superiors, who either could not believe in the reality of the crimes, or thought the crimes were not serious and that they were ones easily repented of.
In my own personal and professional experience, I have seen several cases of child sexual abuse by Church members or investigators, by Little League or Boy Scout leaders, by a teenage babysitter who was a member of the ward, by a relative within my extended family, and by fathers toward their own daughters. Some of these I prosecuted, some I dealt with in Church disciplinary councils, and others I learned about when they were finally arrested.
All members of the Church should exercise proper caution about the behavior of other Church members that might be a mask for illegal and abusive behavior. Those of us with leadership positions are especially responsible to ensure that we and the Church do nothing that facilitates acts of abuse. If we learn of an allegation of abuse of any kind, we need to take proper steps to notify law enforcement authorities in accordance with law, and to prevent access of the suspect to vulnerable Church members. We do not help a person who has these temptations if we place a potential victim within his ability to harm. We must be careful not to aid and abet such crimes by our lack of wisdom.