If you thought child sexual abuse only happened in the Catholic Church, then you may be surprised to hear this story about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A Texas man has admitted to sexually abusing at least four young kids between the ages of two and six while he served as a primary instructor at the Mormon Church. Noel Anderson, 22, molested the children over the course of seven years, according to the Washington Post.
Anderson has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, a first-degree felony, and indecency with a child, a second-degree felony. He was arrested last month and is being held on a $200,000 bond, online records show. His attorney did not immediately return a call Monday.
Police suspect that there might have been more victims and are urging parents to speak with their children if they had been in Anderson’s care.
It’s terrifying to think that there could be even more victims, especially since the vast majority of them would likely be too young to speak out or make any sort of formal statement at all. But that’s the world we live in, I suppose.
Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the religious institution of which Anderson was a part is participating in any sort of cover-up, which has become the norm for so many. The Mormon Church in McKinney, Texas, where he worked, said it’s cooperating with investigators.
“Children are precious, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We stand ready to offer love, emotional support and professional counseling for them. We are grateful for their courage in reporting this to law enforcement, and we support the efforts of legal authorities to ensure justice is served in these cases. … Anyone who engages in such behavior is rightfully subject to criminal prosecution and will also face discipline from the Church, including loss of Church membership.”
Assuming they knew nothing about what was happening ahead of time, this is the sort of response that ought to become the norm for religious groups dealing with predators in their midst. They praise the victims for coming forth with their stories and reporting the abuser to law enforcement, and they insist there will also be religious discipline in addition to the judicial kind.
The Mormon Church hasn’t always reacted so well to allegations against members, though. In another state, Mormon leaders are under fire for their response to claims of child sex abuse.
In West Virginia, families sued church officials for failing to act while a once-trusted member of a tightknit Mormon community preyed on children. Michael Jensen is serving a prison sentence for sexually abusing two boys while babysitting them. But six families say the much larger Mormon hierarchy in the state should also be held accountable.
The lengthy legal battle that began in 2013 ended last week, after the parties reached a settlement, the details of which were not disclosed.
There are several other sex abuse cases involving members and leaders of the Mormon Church, including the allegations against former mission leader Joseph L. Bishop, so this isn’t just a one-off instance we can ignore. It’s something that is consistently a problem in organizations where some people wield power over others, especially when they are sexually repressed and claiming to speak for a God, and it needs to be fixed.