The Mormon Church has had a horrible month. Not as horrible as it’s been for the victims of abuse who say the Mormon Church made their problems even worse, but horrible from a PR perspective.
That’s why they’re finally making some very very minor policy changes.
To make sense of the new policies, it helps to remember what’s been going on over the past month or two.
In February, the ex-wives of Rob Porter, former White House staff secretary, went public with stories about how he allegedly abused them during their relationships. Colbie Holderness said Mormon bishops urged her to stick with him no matter how physical he got with her. Divorce wasn’t an option. His first wife, Jennifer Willoughby, said a bishop told her to “think carefully” before going public because “Rob has career ambitions.”
Also in February, MormonLeaks™ released a video from 1999 in which a Church leaders told all bishops about how to handle allegations of child abuse against religious elders. While they were told to follow state law, it was very clear that anything they didn’t have to report to police shouldn’t be reported to police. In those instances, they were advised to contact Church lawyers instead.
And then last week, leaked audio also published on MormonLeaks™ showed Joseph L. Bishop, former leader of the Church’s main Missionary Training Center, confessing to sexual misconduct. One woman alleged that he tried to rape her in a storage room in 1984. That same woman also got Bishop to admit to molesting (he used that word) another girl. The woman later said, “if this story went public, you would be the Harvey Weinstein… of the Mormon church.” Bishop agreed: “I would be.”
Since that last story went public, the LDS Church has tried to put out the fire it created. They said they investigated that first woman’s claims in 2010 but found no evidence for them. Brigham Young University police, however, said Bishop himself admitted to them some of the key elements of her story. Other Mormons have added weight to her testimony as well.
All of this is bad news for the Mormon Church, which now appears to have failed to act on allegations of abuse. Furthermore, even when Mormon leaders did act, they gave bad advice.
That’s why the LDS Church announced last night that it was making key policy changes in how it handles abuse:
… Though the church has long had more general policies on how to deal with members suffering abuse, as of Monday the guidelines now state that “members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”
Clergy members are also now advised against ignoring abuse allegations.
“Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel,” the guideline now states.
Another big change: The Church is telling leaders that if they are meeting with children or women, they should ask another adult to be present nearby. If the child or woman wants that person in the room, that should also be permitted. (Whether kids would understand the importance of having someone else in the room is another story. Right now, it’s only optional, not mandatory.)
It shouldn’t have taken this long to achieve these baby steps of progress, but in some ways, it doesn’t go far enough.
Last November, we learned that bishops were asking children detailed questions about their sex lives, including whether they masturbate and how they did it. But the new guidelines never say, “Don’t ask those creepy-ass questions.”
There’s a planned “March for the Children” this Friday in Salt Lake City with the stated goal of putting an end to those intrusive interviews. Hundreds of people have already signed up to attend and organizers plan to deliver this petition to Mormon leaders.
If LDS officials thought they could stave off the march by making modest policy changes, they were dead wrong. They didn’t even address one of the key ways kids have been traumatized by the Church.