Mormon officials allegedly covered up sexual abuse of children

Bishops in Arizona say church officials instructed them to not contact police after one of their members confessed to sexually abusing his children.

BISBEE, Ariz. — MJ was a tiny, black-haired lady, simply 5 years previous, when her father admitted to his bishop that he was sexually abusing her.

The father, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an admitted pornography addict, was in counseling along with his bishop when he revealed the abuse. The bishop, who was additionally a household doctor, adopted church coverage and referred to as what church officials have dubbed the “help line” for steering.

But the decision provided little assist for MJ. Lawyers for the church, broadly generally known as the Mormon church, who employees the assistance line across the clock instructed Bishop John Herrod to not name police or little one welfare officials. Instead he stored the abuse secret.

“They said, ‘You absolutely can do nothing,’” Herrod mentioned in a recorded interview with regulation enforcement.

Herrod continued to counsel MJ’s father, Paul Douglas Adams, for one more year, and introduced in Adams’ spouse, Leizza Adams, in hopes she would do one thing to guard the children. She didn’t. Herrod later instructed a second bishop, who additionally stored the matter secret after consulting with church officials who preserve that the bishops had been excused from reporting the abuse to police below the state’s so-called clergy-penitent privilege.

Adams continued raping MJ for as many as seven extra years, into her adolescence, and in addition abused her toddler sister, who was born throughout that point. He regularly recorded the abuse on video and posted the video on the web.

Adams was lastly arrested by Homeland Security brokers in 2017 with no assist from the church, after regulation enforcement officials in New Zealand found one of the movies. He died by suicide in custody earlier than he might stand trial.

The Associated Press has obtained practically 12,000 pages of sealed data from an unrelated little one intercourse abuse lawsuit towards the Mormon church in West Virginia. The paperwork provide essentially the most detailed and complete look but on the so-called assist line Herrod referred to as. Families of survivors who filed the lawsuit mentioned they present it’s half of a system that may simply be misused by church leaders to divert abuse accusations away from regulation enforcement and as an alternative to church attorneys who might bury the issue, leaving victims in hurt’s means.

The assist line has been criticized by abuse victims and their attorneys for being insufficient to rapidly cease abuse and defend victims. Yet the Utah-based religion has caught by the system regardless of the criticism and growing scrutiny from attorneys and prosecutors, together with these within the Adams case.

“‘I just think that the Mormon church really sucks. Seriously sucks,” said MJ, who is now 16, during an interview with the AP. “They are just the worst type of people, from what I’ve skilled and what different individuals have additionally skilled.”

MJ and her adoptive mom requested the AP to make use of solely her initials partly as a result of movies of her abuse posted by her father are nonetheless circulating on the web. The AP doesn’t publish the names of sexual abuse survivors with out their consent.

William Maledon, an Arizona lawyer representing the bishops and the church in a lawsuit filed by three of the Adams’ six children, instructed the AP final month that the bishops weren’t required to report the abuse.

“These bishops did nothing wrong. They didn’t violate the law, and therefore they can’t be held liable,” he mentioned. Maledon referred to the go well with as “a money grab.”

In his AP interview, Maledon additionally insisted Herrod didn’t know that Adams was persevering with to sexually assault his daughter after studying of the abuse in a single counseling session.

But within the recorded interview with the agent obtained by the AP, Herrod mentioned he requested Leizza Adams in a number of periods if the abuse was ongoing and requested her, “What are we going to do to stop it?”

“At least for a period of time I assumed they had stopped things, but — and then I never asked if they picked up again.”


The Adams household lived on a lonely filth street about 8 miles from the middle of Bisbee, an previous copper-mining city in southeastern Arizona recognized in the present day for its vintage retailers and laid-back perspective. Far from prying eyes, the Adams dwelling — a three-bedroom, open idea affair surrounded by desert — was usually affected by piles of clothes and containers of lubricant Adams used to sexually abuse his children, in accordance with authorized paperwork reviewed by the AP.

Paul’s spouse, Leizza, assumed most of the child-rearing duties, together with getting their six children off to high school and chauffeuring them to church and spiritual instruction on Sundays. Paul, who labored for the U.S. Border Patrol, spent a lot of his time on-line porn, usually along with his children watching, or wandering the home bare or in nothing however his underwear.

He had a brief fuse and would regularly throw issues, yell at his spouse and beat his children. “He just had this explosive personality,” mentioned Shaunice Warr, a Border Patrol agent and a Mormon who labored with Paul and described herself as Leizza’s finest buddy. “He had a horrible temper.”

Paul was extra relaxed whereas coaxing his older daughter to carry a smartphone digicam and report him whereas he sexually abused her. He additionally appeared to revel within the abuse in on-line chat rooms, the place he as soon as bragged that he had “the perfect lifestyle” as a result of he might have intercourse along with his daughters each time he happy, whereas his spouse knew and “doesn’t care.”

He would later inform investigators the abuse was a compulsion he couldn’t cease. “I got into something too deep that I just couldn’t pull myself out of,” he mentioned. “I’m not trying to say the devil made me do it.”

The Adams household was deeply concerned within the Mormon group, and on Sundays they attended companies in Bisbee. So Adams turned to his church, and to Bishop Herrod, when he sought assist and revealed his abuse of MJ.

Herrod later instructed Homeland Security agent Robert Edwards he knew from the beginning that Leizza Adams was unlikely to cease her husband, after he referred to as her into the counseling periods. The bishop, who was additionally Leizza’s personal doctor, mentioned she appeared “pretty emotionally dead” when her husband recounted his abuse of their daughter. The bishop additionally acknowledged the hurt being carried out to MJ. “I doubt (she) will ever do well,” he mentioned in his recorded interview with Homeland Security brokers.

Herrod additionally instructed Edwards that when he referred to as the assistance line, church officials instructed him the state’s clergy-penitent privilege required him to maintain Adams’s abuse confidential.

But the regulation required no such factor.

Arizona’s little one intercourse abuse reporting regulation, and related legal guidelines in additional than 20 states that require clergy to report little one intercourse abuse and neglect, says that clergy, physicians, nurses, or anybody caring for a kid who “reasonably believes” a baby has been abused or uncared for has a authorized obligation to report the knowledge to police or the state Department of Child Safety. But it additionally says that clergy who obtain details about little one neglect or sexual abuse throughout non secular confessions “may withhold” that info from authorities if the clergy decide it’s “reasonable and necessary” below church doctrine.

In 2012, when Herrod rotated out of his position as bishop of the Bisbee ward — a Mormon jurisdiction much like a Catholic parish — he instructed incoming Bishop Robert “Kim” Mauzy concerning the abuse within the Adams family. Instead of rescuing MJ by reporting the abuse to authorities, Mauzy additionally stored the knowledge throughout the church.

In a separate recorded interview with federal brokers obtained by the AP, Mauzy mentioned church officials instructed him he ought to convene a confidential disciplinary listening to for Adams, after which Adams was ex-communicated in 2013. Mauzy and different church leaders nonetheless didn’t report Adams to the police.

Two years later, in 2015, Leizza Adams gave delivery to a second daughter. It took her husband simply six weeks to start out sexually assaulting her, recording the abuse, and importing the movies to the web.

The revelation that Mormon officials might have directed an effort to hide years of abuse within the Adams family sparked a legal investigation of the church by Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, and the civil lawsuit by three of the Adams children.

“Who’s really responsible for Herrod not disclosing?” McIntyre requested in an AP interview. “Is it Herrod,” who says he adopted the church legal professionals’ instruction to not report the abuse to authorities? “Or is it the people who gave him that advice?”


When it involves little one sexual abuse, the Mormon church says “the first responsibility of the church in abuse cases is to help those who have been abused and protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse,” in accordance with its 2010 handbook for church leaders. The handbook additionally says, “Abuse cannot be tolerated in any form.”

But church officials, from the bishops within the Bisbee ward to officials in Salt Lake City, tolerated abuse within the Adams household for years.

“They just let it keep happening,” mentioned MJ, in her AP interview. “They just said, ‘Hey, let’s excommunicate her father.’ It didn’t stop. ‘Let’s have them do therapy.’ It didn’t stop. ‘Hey, let’s forgive and forget and all this will go away.’ It didn’t go away.”

An analogous dynamic performed out in West Virginia, the place church leaders had been accused of masking up the crimes dedicated by a younger abuser from a outstanding Mormon household even after he’d been convicted on little one intercourse abuse prices in Utah. The abuser, Michael Jensen, in the present day is serving a 35- to 75-year jail sentence for abusing two children in West Virginia. Their household, together with others, sued the church and settled out of court docket for an undisclosed sum.

“Child abuse festers and grows in secrecy,” mentioned Lynne Cadigan, a lawyer for the Adams children who filed go well with. “That is why the mandatory reporting came into effect. It’s the most important thing in the world to immediately report to the police.”

The lawsuit filed by the three Adams children accuses The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a number of other members, together with Bishops Herrod and Mauzy, of negligence and conspiring to cover up little one intercourse abuse to keep away from “costly lawsuits” and defend the popularity of the church, which depends on proselytizing and tithing to draw new members and lift money. In 2020, the church claimed roughly 16 million members worldwide, most of them residing exterior the United States.

“The failure to prevent or report abuse was part of the policy of the defendants, which was to block public disclosure to avoid scandals, to avoid the disclosure of their tolerance of child sexual molestation and assault, to preserve a false appearance of propriety, and to avoid investigation and action by public authority, including law enforcement,” the go well with alleges. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe that such actions were motivated by a desire to protect the reputation of the defendants.”

Very few of the scores of lawsuits towards The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints point out the assistance line, partly as a result of particulars of its operations have been a carefully guarded secret. The paperwork within the sealed court docket data present the way it works.

“The help line is certainly there to help — to help the church keep its secrets and to cover up abuse,” mentioned Craig Vernon, an Idaho lawyer who has filed a number of intercourse abuse lawsuits towards the church.

Vernon, a former member, routinely calls for that the church require bishops to report intercourse abuse to police or state authorities reasonably than the assistance line.

The sealed data say calls to the assistance line are answered by social staff or skilled counselors who decide whether or not the knowledge they obtain is critical sufficient to be referred to an lawyer with Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City agency that represents the church.

A doc with the heading “Protocol for abuse help line calls,” which was among the many sealed data obtained by the AP, laid out the questions social staff had been to ask earlier than figuring out whether or not the calls must be referred to the legal professionals.

Mormon officials within the West Virginia case mentioned they didn’t acknowledge the Protocol and couldn’t authenticate it. But a rating church official in a separate intercourse abuse lawsuit in Oregon confirmed that these answering the assistance line used a “written protocol” to information them.

“There would be a page containing various topics to discuss and handle,” mentioned Harold C. Brown, then director of the church’s Welfare Services Department.

The Protocol instructs these staffing the assistance line to inform callers they’re to make use of first names solely. “No identifying information should be given.” Under the heading “High Risk Cases,” it additionally instructs staffers to ask a collection of questions, together with whether or not calls involved doable abuse by a church chief, an worker, or abuse at “a church-sponsored activity.”

The protocol advises these taking the calls to instruct a “priesthood leader,” which incorporates bishops and stake presidents, to encourage the perpetrator, the sufferer, or others who know of the abuse to report it. But it additionally says, in capital letters, that these taking the calls “should never advise a priesthood leader to report abuse. Counsel of this nature should come only from legal counsel.”

That counsel comes from attorneys from Kirton McConkie, which represents the church.

Joseph Osmond, one of the Kirton McConkie legal professionals assigned to take assist line calls, mentioned in a sealed deposition that he’s all the time able to take care of intercourse abuse complaints.

“Wherever I am. The call comes to my cell phone,” he mentioned. He then acknowledged that he didn’t refer calls to a social employee and wouldn’t understand how to take action.

Osmond declined to remark by way of church officials. Peter Schofield, a Kirton McConkie lawyer lengthy related to the assistance line, additionally declined to answer questions from the AP.

Maledon, the lawyer for the church within the Adams lawsuit, mentioned church clergy or church attorneys have made “hundreds of reports” of little one abuse to civil authorities in Arizona over an unspecified quantity of years. But he couldn’t say what number of calls to the assistance line weren’t referred to police or little one welfare officials and couldn’t present a referral rate.

Two church practices, recognized within the sealed data, work collectively to make sure that the contents of all assist traces calls stay confidential. First, all data of calls to the assistance line are routinely destroyed. “Those notes are destroyed by the end of every day,” mentioned Roger Van Komen, the church’s director of Family Services, in an affidavit included within the sealed data.

Second, church officials say that every one calls referred to Kirton McConkie legal professionals are covered by attorney-client privilege and stay out of the attain of prosecutors and victims’ attorneys. “The church has always regarded those communications between its lawyers and local leaders as attorney-client privileged,” mentioned Paul Rytting, the director of Risk Management, in a sealed affidavit.


Mormon leaders established the assistance line in 1995 and it operated not inside its Department of Family Services, however as an alternative in its Office of Risk Management, whose position is to guard the church and members from harm and legal responsibility in an array of circumstances, together with fires, explosions, hazardous chemical spills and extreme climate. The division in the end stories to the First Presidency, the three officials on the very prime of the church hierarchy, in accordance with data within the sealed paperwork.

Risk administration additionally tracks all intercourse abuse lawsuits towards the church, in accordance with a sealed affidavit by Dwayne Liddell, a previous director of the division who helped set up the assistance line. He mentioned members of the church’s First Presidency knew the small print of the assistance line.

“I have been in those type of meetings where … the training of ecclesiastical leaders (and) the establishment of a help line have been discussed,” Liddell mentioned. When requested who attended the conferences, he answered, “Members of the First Presidency and the presiding bishopric,” or the highest leaders of the church.

Before establishing the assistance line in 1995, the Mormon church merely instructed bishops to adjust to native little one intercourse abuse reporting legal guidelines.

At the time, little one intercourse abuse lawsuits had been on the rise and juries had been awarding victims tens of millions of {dollars}. The Mormon church is essentially self-insured, leaving it particularly weak to expensive lawsuits.

“There is nothing inconsistent between identifying cases that may pose litigation risks to the church and complying with reporting obligations,” church legal professionals mentioned in a sealed authorized submitting.

But one affidavit within the sealed data which repeatedly says the church condemns little one sexual abuse, additionally suggests the church is extra involved concerning the non secular well-being of perpetrators than the bodily and emotional well-being of younger victims, who additionally could also be members of the religion.

“Disciplinary proceedings are subject to the highest confidentiality possible,” mentioned Rytting. “If members had any concerns that their disciplinary files could be read by a secular judge or attorneys or be presented to a jury as evidence in a public trial, their willingness to confess and repent and for their souls to be saved would be seriously compromised.”


In 2016 police in New Zealand arrested a 47-year-old farm employee on little one pornography prices and located a nine-minute video on his cellphone, downloaded from the web, exhibiting a person in his 30s raping a 10-year-old lady.

A worldwide seek for the rapist and his sufferer was on. It began with Interpol and led to the U.S. State Department, the place investigators utilizing facial recognition technology matched the rapist with a passport card photograph of a U.S. Border Patrol worker residing in Bisbee, Arizona, in accordance with a Homeland Security synopsis obtained by the AP.

Agents rushed to the Naco, Arizona, Border Station and arrested Adams, then a lanky, bearded mission help specialist with the Border Patrol. After some coaxing, Adams admitted to raping MJ and to sexually assaulting her youthful sister, and to posting video of the assaults on the web. When brokers raided his dwelling, they seized telephones and computer systems holding greater than 4,000 images and practically 1,000 movies depicting little one intercourse abuse, many that includes the Adams daughters.

But the nine-minute video stood out. “This video is one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” Homeland Security agent Edwards later testified, including that haunting dialogue between Adams and his older daughter helped make the video “stand out in my mind and continue to stand out in my mind.”

That video represented 9 minutes and 14 seconds in seven years of continuous and pointless trauma for MJ — and a lifetime of abuse for her tiny sister — whereas Bishops Herrod and Mauzy and church representatives in Salt Lake City stood by.

After Paul Adams died by suicide, Leizza Adams pleaded no contest to little one intercourse abuse prices and served two-and-a-half years in state jail. Three of the Adams children went to stay with members of Leizza’s prolonged household in California. The different three had been taken in by native households.


MJ’s little sister was solely 2 when she met her adoptive mom for the primary time. The toddler wrapped her legs and arms round Miranda Whitworth’s head, buried her face in her neck, and refused to look up to say goodbye to members of Leizza’s household. “It was the craziest thing,” mentioned Whitworth who, together with her husband, Matthew, welcomed the toddler into their household. “It was like when you see a baby monkey or baby gorilla cling to their mother, and they just won’t let go.”

Over the subsequent few days and weeks, the Whitworths would see further markers of the unfathomable abuse the toddler endured by the hands of her father — a lot of it recorded on video. She would howl in terror when any man tried to the touch her, whether or not it was Matthew or the household doctor. “The nurse was fine but the minute the doctor walked in she climbed onto me and started screaming bloody murder,” Miranda mentioned.

The 2-year-old was additionally terrified of the water, which made bathing an ear-splitting ordeal. She wouldn’t tolerate something wrapped round her wrists. And at church, she would run and conceal behind Miranda each time anybody greeted her by an previous household nickname.

When they took within the toddler, neither Miranda nor Matthew knew very a lot about what had occurred to her. But whereas sitting in on Leizza Adams’s sentencing listening to, they discovered concerning the repeated rapes, the movies, and the truth that church bishops knew concerning the abuse of the older daughter and did nothing to cease it.

The Whitworths had been converts to the Mormon religion and, like many new followers of a faith, they had been particularly smitten by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In specific, they appreciated the efforts Mormons make to assist fellow church members in occasions of want by way of church organizations established to offer particular consideration to girls, teenagers and children.

“It’s all about family,” Miranda mentioned. “That’s one of the things we absolutely loved.”

But after studying about what Adams did to their new daughter, and the failure of the church to cease him, the scales fell from their eyes. “We decided to remove our records from the church,” mentioned Matthew Whitworth. “I personally couldn’t continue to provide tithing money to a church that would allow young children to be abused and not do anything to prevent it.”

Unlike the Whitworths, Nancy Salminen has by no means been a member of the Mormon church. But as a particular wants instructor and a rape sufferer herself, she has a particular affinity for MJ and others like her. Over the final 5 years, she has opened her dwelling to 17 women and boys who wanted a secure place to remain. Her home is a modest, ranch-style structure she purchased out of foreclosures.

“Everything’s a little broken here and that’s perfect because so are we,” she mentioned.

Salminen mentioned she met MJ after receiving an pressing name on a Friday night to rescue a 12-year-old from one other household. “She was pretty scared and pretty confused when I picked her up,” Salminen recalled. “She spent a lot of time in her closet in her room when we got home, but we got to know each other and got to like each other.”

Like the Whitworths, Salminen knew little or no about what MJ had endured till Leizza Adams’s sentencing listening to.

“What I heard made me want to throw up,” she mentioned. “And the more I learned the more I wanted to help her fight this fight that she didn’t even know about.”

Safely settled in Salminen’s family — which in the present day features a foster lady Salminen additionally plans to undertake — MJ has been remodeled from a sufferer of unimaginable abuse to a bubbly 16-year-old who performs in the highschool band and proudly dons a crisp, new uniform for her job at a fast-food restaurant.

“She had every excuse to fail and to just fold into herself and run away,” Salminen mentioned. “But instead, she came back stronger than anyone I’ve ever known.”

So sturdy that she seems wanting to play an energetic position within the battle she and her two siblings are waging towards The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I just want them to do what they’re supposed to do and report to the police,” MJ mentioned.

The adoptive dad and mom of the third Adams little one who has filed go well with declined to talk to the AP concerning the case. Like MJ, Miranda and Matthew Whitworth mentioned they joined the lawsuit towards the church on behalf of their younger daughter not in hopes of a payday, however to alter church coverage in order that any occasion of little one sexual abuse is instantly reported to civil authorities. “We just don’t understand why they’re paying all these lawyers to fight this,” Matthew Whitworth mentioned. “Just change the policy.”


That coverage is the important thing to the church’s protection. In a latest submitting asking a Superior Court decide to dismiss the case, Maledon and different legal professionals for the church mentioned the case “hinges entirely on whether Arizona’s child abuse reporting statute required two church bishops … to report to authorities confidential confessions made to them by plaintiffs’ father.”

Whatever ethical or public coverage arguments one might make that the church ought to have instructed authorities that Paul Adams was raping his daughters are irrelevant, the legal professionals argued. “Arizona’s reporting statute broadly exempts confidential communications with clergy, as determined by the clergyman himself,” in accordance with the church movement to dismiss the case. “Reasonable people can debate whether this is the best public policy choice. But that is not an issue for a jury or this court.”

Bishop Herrod, in his recorded interview, mentioned church officials instructed him he needed to preserve what Adams instructed him confidential or he may very well be sued if he went to authorities.

But McIntyre, the Cochise County lawyer, mentioned that’s false, noting the Arizona reporting regulation says that anybody reporting a perception that little one intercourse abuse occurred “is immune from any civil or criminal liability.”

Aside from the authorized arguments over whether or not Bishops Herrod and Mauzy had been excused from their reporting obligations below the clergy-penitent privilege, critics of the inaction by the 2 bishops and the broader church have raised moral points.

Gerard Moretz, a seasoned little one intercourse abuse investigator for the Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Department and an knowledgeable witness for the Adams children, is one of them.

“What aspect of your religious practice are you advancing if you don’t report something like this?” he requested.

Associated Press editor Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this story.

To contact the AP’s investigations group, e-mail [email protected]

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