Church says system ensures reporting, after AP investigation found it can easily be misused by church leaders to divert abuse accusations away from law enforcement.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has accused the Associated Press of publishing an “oversimplified and incomplete” story about the church’s handling of child sex abuse cases.
The faith’s strongly worded news statement issued Friday focused on the role of the Church’s help line given to lay local leaders when handling cases of abuse, saying the system ensures reporting compliance.
The AP’s investigation, drawing on previously sealed court documents, highlighted families of survivors who said the help line was misused by church leaders to divert abuse accusations away from law enforcement, leaving victims vulnerable.
“The nature and the purpose of the Church’s help line was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article,” the statement read. “The help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met.”
Its statement added: “When a leader calls the help line, the conversation is about how to stop the abuse, care for the victim and ensure compliance with reporting obligations, even in cases when the law provides clergy-penitent privilege or restricts what can be shared from private ecclesiastical conversations.”
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Published Thursday, the AP article relied in part on nearly 12,000 pages of sealed court records and described two ongoing lawsuits, one based in Arizona and the other in West Virginia, brought by child sex abuse survivors against the Utah-based church.
According to the story, at least one local leader —- a bishop in Arizona —- was told by someone who answered the help line not to take any action in the case of a father in his congregation who confessed to repeatedly raping his daughters, one starting when she was just six weeks old.
As a result, the abuse was allowed to continue for several years until the man was arrested on charges of child pornography.
The author of the story, Michael Rezendes, previously worked for the Boston Globe, where he was part of the team of reporters who earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for exposing the Roman Catholic church’s pattern of covering up clergy sex abuse.