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Sex with Children: Using God as a Shield

Placing reputation and power ahead of victims' safety, emotional distress, and healing.

October 5, 2022 0 comments

Upon returning from break this week, the Supreme Court denied a petition to intervene in a California appellate court’s ruling (therefore confirming) that a case alleging rape and harassment against a church member and the church will be heard in Los Angeles Superior Court rather than moved to the church’s private arbitration.

The church argued at the trial court level — and won — that the accusers were former members who had signed service contracts that barred them from suing the church. They claimed the issue should be resolved by “religious arbitration.”

A California appeals court overturned the trial court ruling earlier this year, focusing on the plaintiffs’ disturbing allegations that after leaving the church and filing reports with the Los Angeles Police Department, the church stalked them, hacked their phones, and even killed their pets.

The appellate court stated that the harassment allegations reportedly occurred after the accusers had left the church and thus did not fall within the church’s arbitration clause.

First, rape, assault, and abuse allegations should be excluded from all arbitration agreements, just as gross negligence is: disregarding your safety recklessly, intentionally, or wantonly.

Second, any religious organization that asks its members to sign a general arbitration agreement (not specific to a liability activity like horseback riding or skydiving) prohibiting the individual from all future lawsuits should be suspect.

Third, do you think the Supreme Court is reconsidering its position on sweeping religious sex abuse immunity?

Or was it simply because this case is against the Church of Scientology rather than Catholic, Mormon, Baptist, etc?

In 33 states, clergy is exempt from any laws requiring professionals such as teachers, physicians, and psychotherapists to report information about alleged child sexual abuse to police or child welfare officials if the church, in its sole discretion, deems the information privileged.

In many of these cases, the privilege has been invoked to shield religious groups from civil and criminal liability after civil authorities became aware of the abuse concealed by religious groups.

The Associated Press found that the Roman Catholic Church, Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Southern Baptist Convention have utilized their well-funded lobbying infrastructure and strong influence among state lawmakers to protect the privilege.

Supporters of the clergy privilege say abolishing it will not make children safer.

Some go so far as to say that the ability of abusers to report privately to clergy encourages them to confess and often leads to stopping the abuse.

Child abuse researchers say the study of abuse and confessions is almost non-existent, partly due to a lack of funding, but primarily because churches refuse to provide data on clergy reporting.

Accounts of church abuse trace back decades, with survivors confiding in trusted church authorities who they believed would protect them and hold the accused accountable, but frequently to no avail.

Organizations with strong authoritarian cultures, in which participants are trained to trust authority, may have environments conducive to sexual abuse, leaving potential victims weak and unwilling to stand up for themselves.

In an NPR report, opponents claim that both organizational culture and procedures around sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention discourage or prevent victims from coming forward.

According to one victim, the Southern Baptist Convention elevates church leaders above all other authority figures, including law enforcement.

In the case of the Catholic Church, victims have repeatedly claimed that the church engaged in a cover-up, allowing accused clergy to remain in their employment and placing its reputation and power ahead of victims’ safety, emotional distress, and healing.

According to internal papers, Jehovah’s Witnesses believes elders should keep abuse allegations confidential unless law explicitly compels them to report it.

If there are two witnesses, or if the abuser makes an admission to elders, a congregational body of elders establishes a “judicial committee” to investigate the claims. However, according to the guidelines distributed to each elder and obtained by InvestigateWest, this committee must maintain strict confidentiality. Elders are not allowed to notify law enforcement directly, but instead funnel sexual abuse allegations through its New York headquarters.

A growing mountain of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors dating back to the 1980s has revealed that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – the nonprofit that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York – keeps a secret database containing allegations of child molestation spanning multiple decades, and most allegations have not been shared with law enforcement. The Watchtower has refused to release the database’s contents, even to victims or church elders.

A Vice investigation published in 2019 and an Associated Press investigation published in August 2022, detail accusations of the Mormon church seeking to conceal sexual assault charges by routing them through church lawyers before the allegations are reported to the police.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued an official statement in response to the published investigations, claiming that a child sexual abuse “report is even prohibited by law because the confession is ‘owned’ by the confessor.”

The statement further absolved the church of responsibility for three Bisbee, Arizona siblings raped for seven years after two Bishops and a Sunday school teacher first became aware of the abuse, as detailed in the AP article, by claiming the abuser refused to give the church permission to report and then blaming the other parent for failing to “seek professional counseling for their children, which would trigger a mandatory report.”

On the other hand, roughly 28 states mandate clergy report.

After a member confessed to “inappropriate sexual contact” with his teenage daughter, LDS church leaders in one of those states, Oregon, alerted the police. The abuser was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2017, and his wife, the mother of the abuse victim, sued the church for $9.5 million, claiming that her husband’s “confession-like communications” should have been treated as confidential, according to Time.

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