Who reports crimes confessed to a Bishop?

May 23, 2011 | 61 comments
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0-Susan BrockLast week the Pinal Arizona County Attorney decided not to charge two LDS Bishops with failing to report the sexual abuse of a minor in the case of LDS Church member Susan Brock, who is now serving a 13-year prison sentence for the crime. While I tend to agree with the county attorney’s position on the bishops, I have to ask the question, who should have reported the crime and when?

Brock confessed the crime to her bishop last October 9th after her teenage victim’s girlfriend discovered sexually-charged texts on the victim’s phone. The girlfriend told her parents, who called Brock’s husband, Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock, leading to Susan Brock’s meeting with the Bishop. Brock’s Bishop, Matthew Meyers, then contacted the victim’s bishop, Troy Hansen, on October 12th or 13th, who met with the teenage victim and his parents on October 19th. According to the police, both Bishops contacted the Church’s law firm, Kirton and McConkie, as directed in the handbook (as I understand it), and evidently received advice from the attorneys there.

Bishop Hansen’s meeting with the teenager and his father disclosed the full extent of the abuse, but also left the issue of reporting the crime to the police up in the air. The victim’s father, according to police, was told that “things were being done,” and “it was going to be dealt with.” But an LDS Church spokesman disputes this account, and says that “Church leaders worked effectively within the law, and with those involved, to facilitate prompt reporting to police” and claimed that the Bishop urged the teenager to report.

However, the victim’s father waited several days, and then told police that they were “waiting for what seemed like forever for someone to knock on their front door.” After the teenager and his father filed their complaint October 22, Susan Brock was arrested October 26.

It does seem kind of strange that everyone (all the Brocks, the victim and his family and the victim’s girlfriend and her family are all LDS) involved in this case seemed to go exclusively to each other and to local Church leaders and not to the police. Who was supposed to report the crime? And if it was just the victim, why would the victim’s father think that the Bishop would take care of this?

I assume that the advice the Bishops received from the Church lawyers was that they didn’t have to report — i.e., that they should not violate the confessional. The victim’s Bishop learned of the abuse from Brock’s confession to her Bishop, making his knowledge part of the confession. Since I want the confessional protected, I can accept that position. And, it looks like the Pinal County Attorney has effectively supported that belief.

But, what about the others? Even though the victim’s girlfriend and her family didn’t have very good knowledge, it sure seems like this would be the kind of suspicion to report to the police. And surely the family of the victim should take this directly to the police in addition to the Bishop?

I have to wonder if some part of our culture believes that crimes like this should be kept from the police, that we should handle the issue inside the Church. If nothing else, this case shows that such an approach is not always wise.

It is, of course, very possible that there are details of this case which have not yet come out. That somehow there are reasons for why each of these people did what they did. But I’m still left with questions about who was supposed to report and when.

61 Responses to Who reports crimes confessed to a Bishop?

  1. Zack on May 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Does it seem weird to anyone else here that the victim was encouraged to go see his bishop. If I knew a boy who had been sexually-abused, I would encourage them to report the abuse to the police and possibly see a therapist if they needed help coping with it.

    Obviously, I don’t know all the details here. Perhaps he felt the need to confess something about the incident(s?) to his bishop. Or perhaps he felt like he needed confirmation from a priesthood authority that he was the victim and not a sinner.

    It definitely seems really odd to me that (apparently) all involved parties seem to have thought of this as an issue that the Church should be dealing with rather than the law. And I find that anyone urged the victim to speak with his bishop to be the most bizarre element of that.

  2. Last Lemming on May 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Of course the victim’s parents should have gone straight to the police. The girlfriend probably didn’t have enough to take to the police, especially when a powerful politician was involved.

    As for the bishops, I should probably wait for real lawyers to weigh in, but it seems to me that the they are very lucky in this case. Didn’t the Brock’s bishop break the confessional seal by telling the victim’s bishop? And why should the victim’s bishop be able to claim any kind of privilege?

  3. Alison Moore Smith on May 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I agree that the confessional should be protected. The victim is the appropriate person to report a crime. (I hope all the bishops involved encouraged everyone to go to the authorities.) From what I read, I think the role of the girlfriend’s family would be to go to the victim’s parents, not to authorities with suspicions.

    On a side note, I can’t imagine what Mrs. Brock thought the point of going to the bishop would be WITHOUT going to the authorities. Did she think he would absolve her of her sins without going through the proper legal channels to pay her debt to society?

  4. jks on May 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I am mystified as well when people think it is the bishop’s responsibility to report things that they themselves know. If YOU know someone was molested or is being physically abused, it is YOUR responsibility to report it (or check to see if it has already been reported).

  5. David on May 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    We had a teacher confess to having sex with a Senior in HS. The church law firm said the entire Bishopric was under privilege and did no have to report.

  6. Dave on May 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    The duty to report suspected child abuse is established by statute in each state and varies by state. Who is under a duty to report and any exceptions to that duty likewise vary by state. The present case was in Arizona. Here is the text of the Arizona statute that applies, Section 13-3620 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (emphasis added):

    A. Any person who reasonably believes that a minor is or has been the victim of physical injury, abuse, child abuse, a reportable offense or neglect that appears to have been inflicted on the minor by other than accidental means or that is not explained by the available medical history as being accidental in nature or who reasonably believes there has been a denial or deprivation of necessary medical treatment or surgical care or nourishment with the intent to cause or allow the death of an infant who is protected under section 36-2281 shall immediately report or cause reports to be made of this information to a peace officer or to child protective services in the department of economic security, except if the report concerns a person who does not have care, custody or control of the minor, the report shall be made to a peace officer only. A member of the clergy, christian science practitioner or priest who has received a confidential communication or a confession in that person’s role as a member of the clergy, christian science practitioner or a priest in the course of the discipline enjoined by the church to which the member of the clergy, christian science practitioner or priest belongs may withhold reporting of the communication or confession if the member of the clergy, christian science practitioner or priest determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion. This exemption applies only to the communication or confession and not to personal observations the member of the clergy, christian science practitioner or priest may otherwise make of the minor.

    And interpreting the statute is not as easy as you think. “Any person,” for example, does not mean any person. The cited statute continues (emphasis added):

    For the purposes of this subsection, “person” means:
    1. Any physician, physician’s assistant, optometrist, dentist, osteopath, chiropractor, podiatrist, behavioral health professional, nurse, psychologist, counselor or social worker who develops the reasonable belief in the course of treating a patient.
    2. Any peace officer, member of the clergy, priest or christian science practitioner.
    3. The parent, stepparent or guardian of the minor.
    4. School personnel or domestic violence victim advocate who develop the reasonable belief in the course of their employment.
    5. Any other person who has responsibility for the care or treatment of the minor.

    No one, of course, should rely on this comment or any other comment in this thread as legal advice. Especially because the law in this area varies by state, if you are in the middle of something messy, get legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your state.

  7. Mark B. on May 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I’m not Kirton & McConkie, but I think I can understand why they told the victim’s bishop that he did not have a duty to report–the exclusion for clergymen includes both a “confidential communication” and “confession” received in his role as clergyman. But I think my advice, if I were K&McC, to the victim’s bishop would have been: “The statute doesn’t require reporting of a confidential communication, but you should do it anyway.”

  8. Mark D. on May 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Legal issues aside, I tend to think that it would be more than harmful for bishop’s to report various and sundry minor crimes to the police. The idea though that bishops should refrain from reporting major crimes to the police to preserve the “sanctity of the confessional”, is (I believe) wrongheaded, unjust, and counterproductive.

    What is the point? So that child abusers, embezzlers, and rapists can salve their guilty consciences? The first thing anyone in such a position should to if they really want to repent is confess to the police, suffer the legal consequences, and make any proper restitution.

    If I were a bishop, and someone wanted to confess a major crime in confidence, I would tell them the I felt a moral obligation to report major crimes to the proper authorities, and if they weren’t okay with that, they shouldn’t say anything.

  9. BTD Greg on May 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Four days doesn’t seem like that much time in a case like this one. I would imagine that part of the reason the County Attorney didn’t bring charges is that it would have been easy enough for the bishops to say that they intended to report it, but wanted to give the victim and the victim’s family a chance to report it as well. And I think a jury would understand that.

    Now, maybe the law in question has a provision that requires reporting immediately, but the County Attorney then looks like their going after a technical violation rather than curing some substantive ill.

    (I am a lawyer, but didn’t rely on any legal research or reasoning in this comment. I also did not bill for my time.)

  10. Mark B. on May 23, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    A very long line of legal scholars and I disagree with you, Mark D.

  11. Kevin Barney on May 23, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I wonder whether some of this is leftover from the old polygamy prosecution days, which gave us an adversarial relationship with legal authorities that led to a desire to resolve legal issues in-house without resorting to external justice.

  12. Kent Larsen on May 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Zack (1), it could be that the teenager was a willing participant. If so, then he would have something to repent of, even though legally, since he is a minor, he isn’t responsible and Brock has committed a crime.

    We have to keep in mind two things: 1) what is a sin isn’t necessarily a crime, and 2) the age of accountability (at which sin is possible) isn’t the same as the age of responsibility under the law (18 in the U.S.)

    Allison (3) wrote: “From what I read, I think the role of the girlfriend’s family would be to go to the victim’s parents, not to authorities with suspicions.”

    Yes, but oddly, they went to Fulton Brock, the perpetrator’s husband – the Maricopa county supervisor. What’s up with that?

    David (5) wrote: “We had a teacher confess to having sex with a Senior in HS. The church law firm said the entire Bishopric was under privilege and did no have to report.”

    I’m ok with that, but I have to ask, who should have, and who did report?

  13. minam on May 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Handbook 1 directs bishops to urge the member to report the activities to the appropriate government authorities.

    I would assume the help line gave the same direction. Did Brock tell her bishop she would contact the authorities?

  14. Kent Larsen on May 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Mark D (8) wrote: “What is the point? So that child abusers, embezzlers, and rapists can salve their guilty consciences?”

    No, so that the Bishop or other clergy is talking with the criminals, counseling them and encouraging them on what steps they need to take to repent. No doubt this does include confessing to the police and suffering the consequences. But often it takes a while to get there.

    If the confessional isn’t safeguarded — if criminals believe that confessing to clergy means that they will be reported — then they never will confess, and there is little chance of any solution.

  15. Tom O. on May 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    The “may” language suggests that the privilege belongs to the clergyman, that it is his or her call on whether to report, as far as the law is concerned.

    My question: is there a similar provision for barring witness testimony; that is, is the decision whether to waive the privilege a matter for the accused to make, or the clergyman?

    Further, what about civil liability to the Church in the matter of a Bishop who makes an elective disclosure? What is there is later an acquittal?

    My point is that there are several dimensions to the issue of disclosure, and this is not as simple as some make it out to be.

  16. Paul on May 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    So of course none of us was in the room. But my understanding of church policy would require the following:

    1. Sister Brock’s bishop’s encouraging HER to go to police and confess in order to work out her repentance

    2. Sister Brock’s bishop’s seeking HER permission to contact the young man’ bishop (because the bishop cannot violate the confessional without her permission)

    3. Sister Brock’s bishop’s seeking advice from the church’s hotline (their law firm) about whether there is statutory requirement to report (which, in Arizona, apparently there is not)

    4. Young man’s bishop’s counseling young man and his father to report the crime

    5. Young man’s bishop’s encouraging young man (eg, through his father) to get proper counseling to sort through the experience and heal emotionally

    6. Young man’s bishop’s working with young man to sort out young man’s transgression (if any) and how to resolve it in the eyes of the church.

    It would appear that if #4 occurred, it was somehow watered down in the minds of young man and father (assuming we can trust their account).

    Bishops would have been unwise to suggest in any way that the church would handle the reporting of the incident.

  17. Kent Larsen on May 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Kevin (11), I thought something similar — although it doesn’t quite feel that way to my limited experience. If that experience does have something to do with the tendency to keep things in house, then I think there would need to be some other intermediate cultural experience to transmit it to today’s members.

    minam (13), I would hope that her Bishop urged her to report, but IMO, that’s a tough sell. More in question is whether or not the victim’s Bishop suggested that the victim report — the victim’s father says he did not.

  18. Mark Brown on May 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    The clergy privilege is supposed to protect confidential confessions, but in this case it sounds like half the town already knew about it. If the bishop is the last to know, does the privilege even apply? There are also 6 states which do not recognize clergy privilege involving sexual abuse of a minor: North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and 3 others I don’t remember. In those states bishops must inform civil authorities immediately upon gaining knowledge of the abuse or they can be charged with a crime as well.

    The church has tried to institute a zero-tolerance policy towards child abusers. We have had trouble in the past when priesthood leaders tried to keep everything in-house and out of the public eye.

  19. Mark B. on May 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Other churches without the special history of polygamy seem to have the same tendency, Kevin. See, for example, the Catholic Church’s response to allegations (or confessions) of sexual abuse by clergy. In retrospect it seems clear that they should have taken vigorous steps to protect the flock and to deliver the offending priests up to the law, but instead the general response seems to have been to attempt to reform the offender through counseling and prayer.

  20. Kent Larsen on May 23, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Paul (16), I think you are spot on with your list of what should happen. Of course, just because it should happen doesn’t mean it did. And Bishops have on occasion done unwise things (which may be why the hotline exists in the first place!)

  21. Mark Brown on May 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Kent, I agree mostly with your reasons in # 14, with the caveat that it will be necessary to notify the law sooner rather than later, and the expectation of confidentiality must be weighed against the likelihood that the person will commit additional abuse in the meantime. This isn’t the kind of thing to drag out, and I think a bishop is entirely within the bounds of propriety to set a target date by which the trangressor will have gone to the law, or the bishop will do it for him.

  22. MD on May 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    #18 I can sleep easier tonight knowing I live in a state that values the well-being of a minor child over the perp’s right to privacy.

  23. Kent Larsen on May 23, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    MD (22), it isn’t about the perp’s right to privacy. Read the explanation above in 14 again.

  24. Lon on May 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    And while #16 is spot on in listing what should have happened, this would not be the first case of a Bishop saying one thing and the counseled hearing another (for a variety of reasons). It also would not be the first case of a Bishop not saying what he actually had intended to say (for a variety of reasons). Way too much we don’t know. I’m just glad it DID get reported and is being dealt with.

  25. Michelle on May 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Although I read regularly, I don’t really comment. However, as an attorney who has extensive experience in the area of sex crimes, I would like to weigh in. There are so many dynamics at play in this case that it is almost impossible to sort out the motivations of all the parties.

    I have done some training of bishops and stake presidents in this area, from the law enforcement point of view. They are largely ignorant of any victim/offender dynamics. The hotline is a great improvement, but with so many parties involved here – Brock, the victim, victim’s girlfriend, Brock’s bishop, victim’s bishop, all the parents – it is easy to understand the delay while everyone tries to figure out what they are legally obligated to DO and what they are religiously obligated NOT to do. Additionally, the delay may have been due to the bishops trying to figure out how to respect the feelings and desires of the victim and his parents. The desires of the victim and his parents may not necessarily have aligned.

    Finally, as someone who has seen how sex crimes are handled by the justice system firsthand, I would be very cautious about reporting sex crimes committed against me or my family. Sure, we all want to prevent these crimes from happening to anyone else. But do not underestimate the cost to the victim of reporting a sex crime. Especially when it is a young male reporting abuse by an older female. A teenage boy may be able to heal from the abuse on a personal level with counseling and support. The justice system is not at all interested in the victim’s healing. And I can tell you for sure that going through the justice system as a victim in a sex case is a whole new and different kind of trauma that may not leave you feeling vindicated in the end.

    As an example: I once prosecuted a 45 year old man who had sex with a 13 year old girl. She was sexually aggressive and promiscuous. The jury convicted, but during deliberations sent out a note asking if she could be prosecuted as well. Juries are, in my experience, hostile to female victims of sex crimes unless they are younger than 12. I can only imagine the comments this boy has had to endure from having his abuse publicized.

    And for the record, I am completely in favor of the clergy/penitent privilege.

  26. anon on May 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    As a person who went through the process of testifying as a child, I agree with Michelle that the trial was hell–a whole hell in of itself. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and greatly alarmed at the protection of perpetrators.

    I’m not sure where Michelle is going with the 13 year old girl. Of course whe was sexually aggressive. She was an abuse victim. Just because someone on the jury was an a**–doesn’t mean we protect abusers.

  27. It's Not Me on May 23, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    #26 “Of course she was sexually aggressive. She was an abuse victim.”

    Since when do victims of any crime all react exactly the same way?

  28. anon on May 23, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I did not mean to imply they do. I apologize. I was simply trying to show cause= effect in this case.

  29. Michelle on May 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I should clarify. I am in no way in favor of protecting abusers. The example of the 13 year old girl was just to show that outsiders, including jurors, can be vicious to victims of sex crimes. This is especially so with teenagers because people have a difficult time accepting that teenagers are truly victims. Again, that is not my belief, but a common one directed at victims.

  30. Mathew on May 23, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    The penitent/priest privilege is an anachronistic bit of barbarism that should be done away with. Its primary purpose is to shield behind a cloak of religious authority the guilty and their apologists at the expense of the innocent (see Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals). Clergymen should no more be able to hide behind the free exercise clause than anyone else compelled to testify behind free speech rights. Shame on the bishops in this case who had neither ecclesiastic nor legal restrictions for not reporting the abuse to the civil authorities.

  31. Téa on May 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    People who are truly penitent are willing to pay the price for their crimes. Conditions of repentance in such cases must involve reporting to the police. The Bishop should pick up the phone and tell the person, “either you make the call or I will.” If the person isn’t willing to own up to such crimes, the confession wasn’t a true confession and isn’t worth protecting in the first place.

  32. el oso on May 23, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    #25 “Finally, as someone who has seen how sex crimes are handled by the justice system firsthand, I would be very cautious about reporting sex crimes committed against me or my family.”
    Living in one of the 6 states mentioned above, this definitely includes discussion with the Bishop.
    If you need to report to protect your family, call the police.

  33. Cynthia L. on May 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    What Tea said. And the anonymous commenter.

  34. Marie on May 23, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I enjoy this blog but haven’t commented very often.

    It concerns me that a lot of adults seemed to suspect something was going on and didn’t report anything. I read another report on this story saying that a year earlier Mrs. Brock had been confronted by the victim’s parents and had been told she couldn’t pick him up from school. The parents had even alerted the school to not let her pick him up.
    I just don’t understand how all of these adults suspected something and no one thought to go to the police?

  35. DavidH on May 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    “The penitent/priest privilege is an anachronistic bit of barbarism that should be done away with. Its primary purpose is to shield behind a cloak of religious authority the guilty and their apologists at the expense of the innocent (see Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals). Clergymen should no more be able to hide behind the free exercise clause than anyone else compelled to testify behind free speech rights.”

    This comment does not seem directed just at child abuse, but at confession generally–i.e., that a confession to clergy should be no more protected than confession to one’s best (or worst) friend. This would end anyone’s confiding anything that might violate a law to clergy. Undocumented residents would not be able to disclose their status, drug users seeking to reform could not disclose to clergy, and the like, without fearing that their confession to clergy is the same (or nearly the same)as confessing to a police officer.

  36. Téa on May 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Something else that has come to light in the Susan Brock case is that she initially confessed to three individual acts of abuse, when in fact she had carefully groomed and then abused the boy for years.

  37. Anon on May 23, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    As a father of a daughter who was abused in our church, I can only say that these kind of situations don’t generate anything good. I am not happy with the way local leaders handled it, I am not happy with how the church legal team handled it. I am not happy with the legal system. I am not happy with how I handled it.

    Most of these comments don’t help anybody, and this post doesn’t help anybody.

  38. E on May 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    #37, do you have any thoughts on what reactions would have been most helpful from church members/leaders?

  39. Mathew on May 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    DavidH,

    I am sympathetic with your concerns and my remark above notwithstanding, believe the sanctity of the confessional-abrogated for certain heinous crimes including sexual abuse of children-is a societal good. A lot of my hostility to clergy privilege stems from the way clergy within the Catholic Church used it to protect itself from scandal at the cost of knowingly abetted sexual predators. To a lesser extent I’m disappointed in how the Mormon Church’s approach to the privilege. My direct experience with calling SLC to discuss abuse of a minor appeared to me as an exercise in institutional CYA. I was hoping for specialized ecclesiastical guidance and found instead advice on the church’s potential liability if I did or did not report to authorities. After hearing so much about how serious the church has become about sexual abuse, as evidence by, among other things, the hotline directly to SLC, I was disheartened to find its focus was on protecting the institution and not the victim. Based on what has been reported in this case, it sounds like my experience was not atypical.

    It is worth noting in the instant case that while a bishop could report to authorities and thus be the cause of an investigation, per Section 13-4062 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, the privilege belongs to the penitent and anything relayed to the bishop in the confessional would likely not be admissable as evidence w/o the penitent’s permission:

    “A person shall not be examined as a witness in the following cases:

    3. A clergyman or priest, without consent of the person making the confession, as to any confession made to the clergyman or priest in his professional character in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which the clergyman or priest belongs.”

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that a prosecutor couldn’t secure a conviction.

  40. Spencer L. Jensen on May 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    There’s a difference between what is legal and what is ethical.

    Legally, bishops and local leaders are not necessarily required to report sexual abuse to the earthly authorities. Ethically, however, they are also not required to, but that is because the Church Handbook says so and not the decrees of men.

    Laws = Legal. Handbook = Ethical. That simple.

  41. Anon on May 24, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Hi E,
    1) the perpetrator is awaiting trial for the rape of 3 victims. Since the abuse was reported he has been given responsibilities in his ward several times that put him near children. Each time we find out, we complain to the stake president, and it gets fixed for a while. Then his bishop, in an attempt to help him not feel too discouraged, gives him unsupervised responsibilities again that allow him to have contact with children again. I think it is finally fixed now. Part of the problem is the secrecy. The stake president doesn’t really unload the full details to the local bishop, only that there was a problem involving children. The bishop has no background and no real awareness of the situation or the dangers.
    2) My wife and I thought that this horrible event would lead to a new level of openness and training/education for members. The only thing that came out of it was the stake president reminding bishops that it was recommended that they call the hotline number. Since then, there was another case in our ward with another perpetrator. Better education of youth and parents could have prevented it. There should be a formal training program that would be useful to all parents not just to help the church cover its ass.

  42. Anon on May 24, 2011 at 2:34 am

    It is worth mentioning that I do think that the church cares about preventing abuse and I realize that for a culture to get things right takes time. These kinds of situations are tremendously difficult for everyone involved in them. I have long term optimism that these problems will eventually be handled well in the vast majority of cases, but I also think we should be doing better now.

  43. Jenne on May 24, 2011 at 2:57 am

    In my professional life, I was bound as a mandated reporter and to be honest, I still consider myself to be bound by that mandate. I’m actually very surprised that bishops are not bound by the same mandate to report sex, particularly child sex crimes to the authorities. I’m also shocked that bishops do not counsel and make confession to authorities a required step in the repentance process.

  44. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 24, 2011 at 8:28 am

    “The penitent/priest privilege is an anachronistic bit of barbarism … — indeed, all confessions should be grist for ward gossip, people are entitled to know everything …

    Getting back to serious discussion, preserving the privilege is important in some jurisdictions for LDS Bishops to be considered clergy.

    People who are truly penitent are willing to pay the price for their crimes. Conditions of repentance in such cases must involve reporting to the police.

    That is an important truth more people need to understand.

  45. Last Lemming on May 24, 2011 at 9:19 am

    There should be a formal training program that would be useful to all parents

    The Boy Scouts have a requirement that scouts and parents sit through one Youth Protection video presentation per year. The video is unintentionally hilarious (unless they’ve fixed it in the last 4 years), but it gets the points across. The leader’s guide to using the video can be found here:

    http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/46-180.pdf

    Obviously, it is focused on boys. I don’t know how comfortable girls would feel viewing this particular video, but the principles are the same for them.

  46. Mathew on May 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Stephen M (Ethesis),

    The distinction is between confidentiality and legal privilege. On a ven diagram penitent/priest privilege would fit entirely inside the confidentiality circle. Doing away with the legal privilege would do little to serve up grist for the ward gossip. As a side note, many Mormons seem to have a Catholic understanding of confidentiality as it relates to the confessional which in fact does not apply to Mormon confession. Mormonism allows the bishop to freely share information given to him in the confessional in certain not-uncommon instances with various people (Stake President, High Council etc.).

    I’m unaware of any jurisdiction which relies on the clergy privilege as a means of recognizing LDS clergy. Can you point me to some? From what I have observed, the conversation usually runs the other way–i.e. the question is whether Mormon lay clergy are entitled to the clergy privilege rather than the clergy privilege serving as proof of the lay clergy’s bona fides. I can imagine that in some legal contexts one factor in recognizing whether Mormon lay clergy meet the legal definition of clergy would be whether courts have recognized they are entitled to the clergy privilege, but haven’t actually seen this in practice.

  47. Kent Larsen on May 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Téa (31) and Jenne (43), I’m surprised at your reactions — you seem to have a very different understanding of repentance that what I’ve learned from the Church and the scriptures.

    Above all, repentance is a process, NOT an event. By design it doesn’t happen in one step, at one time, unless the sin is very small and doesn’t involve the Bishop. Repentance of something like child abuse takes months at least, if not years.

    The assumption that Brock’s Bishop didn’t tell her she would need to turn herself in to the police, confess the crime and serve whatever punishment the court imposes simply ignores how the process works.

    Do you really think that someone who has engaged in an illicit relationship for 3 years will turn him or herself into the police after just one visit with the Bishop? Do you think that the Bishop told her that the matter was resolved right then, and never considered a Bishop’s court as soon as she confessed?

    Let me say it again:

    Repentance is a process, NOT an event.

  48. Marie on May 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    If you read the reports on the Brock case it says that the Bishop held a meeting with the victim, his family, and the both Sister and Brother Brock a year prior to the text messages. At that time the victim denied being abused.

    While I understand why the DA chose not to press charges, does the fact that there was a more open meeting and not necessarily just a one on one confession change things from a legal perspective?

    Also if a parent goes to the school and airs some concerns they may have, as in the Brock case, does the school have to file a report?

    I know there are some lawyers here that might be able to shed some light onto that.

  49. chris on May 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Re: 48 –
    You seem to be confused. If a parent is concerned something illegal is happening to their child they should not only go to the school, but to the police.

    If a parent is confused something illegal is happening to their child, they should not only go to the bishop, but police. We don’t know the motivations of the bishop, etc. in not going to the police (maybe they were going to go, maybe they weren’t).

    But we do know that if the parents knew or suspected something to accuse someone in front of a bishop, they should probably accuse them in front of the police.

  50. Anon on May 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Last Lemming,
    Thanks for letting me know about the boy scout videos and training program.

    By the way, I decided to push the issue with the stake president and it seems like this second event has made him take some other training / discussion actions that I was not aware of. I think things are going in the right direction.

  51. LSB on May 25, 2011 at 2:11 am

    It seems to me that many are in favor of protecting the confidential nature of the confession. Are we perhaps overlooking the purpose of the confession? Isn’t the purpose to confess ones sins? As a member of the church I am unaware of any doctrine which would suggest that forgiveness comes solely by confessing. Since primary I have been taught that there are consequences to ones actions. Ergo should one violate the law how can that person ever truly repent if they are unwilling to accept responsibility for their sinful actions.

    Without consequences how can the confession be anything other than a tool by which sinners can gain respite from their own guilt? Is it true repentance if the sinner will only confess if he is protected from any punishment?

    As I have had this discussion many times, many who advocate maintaining the confidential nature of the confession suggest that without strict confidentiality there would be a chilling effect on those who seek the Bishops help for repentance. My response is simple; it is not true repentance if the sinner is unwilling to accept the consequences of his or her actions. I would suggest with complete confidentiality you only encourage continued misconduct when the sinner knows that all he has to do to ease his conscious is have a short conversation with his Bishop, then back to business as usual.

    The situation at hand is tragic. The Bishops did as they were instructed; however in Arizona they did clearly violate the law. I applaud the Pinal County Attorney, Jim Walsh, and his deputies who recognized that while the law was violated, that was not the intent of the Bishops, who were acting with advice of counsel, to violate the law. That being said, we need to make every effort to prevent this situation in the future.

    As the laws vary from state to state it would seem that the church would benefit from having the hotline manned at the state level so the advice can be correct for the specific state. I am one of many attorneys in Arizona who is a member of the church and would volunteer my time to help; I can only assume that the same can be found in every state.

    Finally I would suggest that the real solution is simple, we keep no secrets when it comes to abuse. If you tell us, our next call is to the police. I cannot see our Father in Heaven finding a sinner to truly penitent if we refuse to accept the consequences of our sins.

  52. Marie on May 25, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Chris- I was referring to the Brock situation. After reading some articles on what happened. It seems that the parents went to the Bishop a year prior to the text incident. At that time, from what is reported, there was a meeting where Susan Brock was confronted. From reports I read it seems that the victim, the parents, and the Borcks were in that meeting. Both she and the victim denied any inappropriate behavior, however, the parents were alarmed enough that they went to the school and told them not to allow Susan Brock to pick up the boy.

    Of course, the parents would ideally go to the police, but they didn’t.

    My question is, if it wasn’t necessarily a confession by Susan Brock but an accusation by someone else is clergy still legally protected?

    How does that work? I know Bishop’s deal with all types of situations where false accusations may be made as well, so it puts them in a precarious position if they are required to report everything that is potentially a crime that they hear about.

    However, in a situation where there is some sort of group mediation are they still protected since it is not a one on one confession?

    In addition, since the parents did go to the school about their concerns wouldn’t the school have to legally report it (even if the parents don’t)?

  53. Kent Larsen on May 25, 2011 at 10:55 am

    LSB (51) wrote:

    I would suggest with complete confidentiality you only encourage continued misconduct when the sinner knows that all he has to do to ease his conscious is have a short conversation with his Bishop, then back to business as usual.

    Huh?

    Why would that ease his conscious? What do you think the Bishop will say in such a conversation? I think your understanding of the Bishop’s role here is way, way, way off base.

    Every Bishop I know would make it clear that he has NOT been forgiven, and that he needs to clear up the situation with the law, among other things.

    If he doesn’t, the Bishop still can disfellowship or excommunicate. If those things don’t matter to the sinner, then why would he confess in the first place?

    I said it above in comment 47 — Repentance is a process, not an event. The reason to allow the conversation to continue — so that the Bishop can persuade the sinner to do the right thing.

    If the confessional isn’t protected, then the Bishop won’t have an opportunity to persuade the sinner to repent, because he won’t even come speak to the Bishop.

  54. Kent Larsen on May 25, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Marie (52), I’m not sure I can answer all your questions, but I do have to mention that both Brock and the teenager denied the relationship the year before (Oct 2009). So the accusers likely didn’t have enough evidence to report, in face of these denials.

  55. Marie on May 25, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks Kent, that is an important point.

  56. Jax on May 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    So in my youth I committed a number of “transgressions” that were…um…less than legal. When I came to my bishop I was never told I had to go to law enforcement in order to complete the repentance process. I’ve never even heard it in a talk on the repentance process. Is it a requirement that you turn yourself into the law in order to repent? Is that somehow connected to restitution in a way I don’t see it?

  57. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 25, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    A traditional exception often made to the confidentiality afforded in law to confessions made in various relationships (Client to attorney, “penitent” person to clergy, patient to doctor, person to spouse) distinguishes confession of past criminal behavior from the intent to commit new crimes. My guess is that, in most jurisdictions, even those that allow a priest, pastor or LDS bishop to refrain from reporting a confession of crime, if the recipient of the confession understand the person making the confession to be stating an intent to continue committing the same crime, the importance of preventing injury when it is possible overrides the normal social considerations that support the privilege of the confessional as a means for guilty persons to be counseled that their behavior is wrong and must be repented of. The rationale for the priest-penitent privilege is that, without it, there would be no confession, and even less personal repentance and confession by offenders.

    People whose main acquaintance with crime is what they see on TV or the news have little appreciation for how many crimes are resolved by guilty pleas, and how often such pleas are reached due to a guilty conscience of the perpetrator. Admittedly, such voluntary confession is much rarer for persons who commit sexual abuse of minors, but the basic principle of confessional privilege was created for the full rangeof criminal behavior, not just sex crimes.

    Indeed, the fact that sexual offenders are far less likely to voluntarily come forward and confess to their clergyman means that the dilemma about reporting a crime reported by the offender rarely occurs. More often, it is the victim or a parent of the victim who comes forward to the “priest”. The situation in which an offender appears before a bishop or stake high council is usually after legal prosecution has already begun, and the offender is being processed for disposition as to their membership. Even in those cases, the offenders are unlikely to make a full confession of what they have done beyond what is already known by others. In other words, they will continue to lie beyond what has already been proven true.

    It is at this point that most bishops and stake high councils will be dealing with a sexual abuser of minors. Their decision in those cases only affects the offender’s membership status, but it also involves marking the offender so it is harder for them to victimize other Church members in the future. It is at this point that I think that bishoprics and stake leaders need to be more skeptical of offenders and recognize that, when someone has been committing acts so evil against innocent victims, lying about it is the least of their sins and the easiest to commit. People who commit these crimes are addicted in the same sense that people get addicted to pornography. They have to consciously think about their behavior in order to stop themselves from comitting another crime. The really repentant recognize that they need the help of being excommunicated so they have less opportunity to commit the crime. The unrepentant especially need to be excommunicated to deter them from committing the crime in a trusting church community. Either way, the best disposition for the community and the offender is to excommunicate the offender.

    In my observation over the years, it is a temptation for all religious leaders, not only LDS but also Catholic or whatever, to think that they are so filled with spiritual power that they can bring evildoers to repentance, and thus are easily suckered into believing a claim of repentance by the offender. Bishops and Stake presidencies and high councils need to be less egoistic and more humble about their own powers of discernment, and treat liars like this in the way that Alma did with Korihor. When Korihor was struck dumb, and wrote his confession of his sins, he asked Alma to ask God to return his power of speech:

    54 Now when he had said this, he besought that Alma should pray unto God, that the curse might be taken from him.

    55 But Alma said unto him: If this curse should be taken from thee thou wouldst again lead away the hearts of this people; therefore, it shall be unto thee even as the Lord will.

    The notoriopus case of a young boy scout leader in Idaho who abused boys, and whose mother was a regional scouting leader, is another example of ecclesiatical leaders who thought that repentance of this kind of crime was much easier than it is. True repentance of this crime comes only when the offender confesses to the police the full scope of his or her crimes–and not necessarily then.

    People who commit sexual abuse of minors are highly likely to commit the same crime if ever given the opportunity. as in the case that led to this blog entry, their crimes are often perpetrated over a course of years. They become ingrained habits. Their ability to repent has been severely foreshortened by their indulging in the addictive behavior. The best thing that can be done for them is to prevent them from harming more people, and that means treating them as offenders despite their pleas for forgiveness.

  58. David on May 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    When the Church covers up sexual abuse, rape, there are innocents who go unhealed.

  59. Kent Larsen on May 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    David (58), that is true. But I’m not sure how it is relevant to the Brock case.

    The most that I can see is that perhaps the local Bishops delayed beyond what they should have by perhaps a couple of weeks.

    I don’t know about other cases.

  60. buraianto on May 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Kent #47, I don’t understand your comment. Help me understand why you think that a requirement to confess to police can not or should not be part of the repentance process. Also, help me understand how confession to police makes repentance become an event instead of a process.

  61. Kent Larsen on May 30, 2011 at 8:30 am

    buralanto, I never said that it should not be part of the repentance process. I did suggest that repentance is a process, and confession to the police may not be possible immediately.

    If the perpetrator talks with the bishop and confesses a crime, are you really suggesting that the bishop must immediately report to the police? Can’t he give the perpetrator time to do so on his own? If the perpetrator doesn’t want to confess to the police, can the bishop spend time trying to convince him to? Or must the bishop force the perpetrator to act immediately?

    What I’m trying to suggest is that those who think that the bishop must immediately report crimes to the police seem to want the repentance process to be handled all at once, in one visit to the bishop. In reality, as far as I know, that rarely happens even with minor, non-criminal, sins, let alone more serious and often more complicated crimes.

    All I’m suggesting is that the bishop needs time to convince the perpetrator to confess to the police. Rarely will the perpetrator confess immediately. It takes time to make the process work. It can’t be done in a single event.