Takeaways from The AP's investigation into the Mormon church's handling of sex abuse cases

HAILEY, Idaho– Paul Rytting had been director of the Risk Management Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for about fifteen years when a 31-year-old church member told him that her father, a former bishop, had sexually abused her when she was a child .

Rytting flew from the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City to Hailey, Idaho, to meet with Chelsea Goodrich and her mother, Lorraine, and discuss what he said was a “tragic and horrible” story.

By this time, Chelsea's father, John Goodrich, had made a religious confession to a bishop of the church, commonly known as the Mormon Church, detailing his relationship with his daughter. Following church policy, Bishop Michael Miller had called a church hotline established to answer calls from bishops about sexual abuse, and John Goodrich was quickly excommunicated.

After the excommunication, Chelsea and Lorraine reported Chelsea's claims of abuse to the Mountain Home, Idaho, police department. They supported their allegations with recordings of conversations with John Goodrich, in which he admitted to climbing into bed with his daughter when he was sexually aroused, although he insisted there was no direct sexual contact. Nevertheless, Mountain Home police arrested him and charged him with a variety of sex crimes.

During their meeting with Rytting, Chelsea and her mother had one overarching question: Would the church allow Miller to testify at John Goodrich's criminal trial?

Over the next four months, in multiple conversations, Rytting told Chelsea, Lorraine and Eric Alberdi, a fellow church member who acted as Chelsea's advocate, that a state law known as clergy privilege barred Miller from testifying without the alleged perpetrator's consent . , John Goodrich. Without Miller's testimony, prosecutors dropped their case.

Rytting then offered Chelsea and her mother $300,000 on the condition that they agree not to use Chelsea's story as a basis for a lawsuit against the church – and never to acknowledge the existence of this NDA.

Today, Goodrich, who did not respond to questions from the AP, remains a free man who practices dentistry and has access to children.

The Mormon Church said in a comment to the AP: “the abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable.” The church also noted that Miller would not be able to testify without Goodrich's consent, and that the confidentiality agreement with Chelsea and Lorraine did not prevent Chelsea from telling her story.

All conversations with Rytting, Chelsea, Lorraine and Alberdi were recorded and provided to The Associated Press by Alberdi.

Takeaways from the AP's investigation:

An earlier AP investigation found that more than half of states maintain clergy-penitent privilege, providing a loophole for clergy who are otherwise required to report child abuse to police or local welfare officials. As a result, some child predators who reveal their crimes to clergy in a denominational setting and do not turn themselves in to police are allowed to remain free and continue to abuse children while posing a danger to others.

Although child welfare advocates have tried to change or eliminate this privilege, the AP found that lobbying by religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church and the Jehovah's Witnesses, has convinced state lawmakers across the country to close the loophole. to maintain. The AP cataloged more than 100 attempts to change or eliminate the privilege, all of which failed.

Non-disclosure agreements, also known as confidentiality agreements, are commonly used by the Mormon Church and other organizations, including the Catholic Church, as well as by individuals, to keep allegations of sexual abuse secret. Twenty-one years ago, the Catholic Church adopted a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, pledging to eliminate the use of confidentiality agreements to settle child abuse claims, except in cases where victims requested anonymity—a recognition of the role NDAs play a role in covering up child sexual abuse. The Mormon Church does not have a similar policy.

The previous AP investigation found that the Hotline plays a central role in covering up child sex abuse in the Mormon church, even though the church claims its purpose is to advise bishops on sexual abuse reporting requirements. The Helpline, founded in 1995 when financial sex abuse claims against religious institutions were on the rise, responds to calls from bishops about child sex abuse and refers the most serious cases to lawyers from the firm Kirton McConkie, which represents the church.

According to the church, all information about child sexual abuse passed on by church members to their bishops is confidential under clergy and penitent privilege, and all information passed through the hotline to church attorneys is confidential under attorney-client privilege. Meanwhile, Rytting and other church officials said in sworn testimony that the helpline either keeps no records or destroys all records at the end of each day.

Or is it? During his conversations with Chelsea and Lorraine, Rytting said he was able to find out whether John Goodrich had previously “repented” of his relationship with Chelsea by consulting the hotline records, which appeared to contradict his sworn testimony in another child abuse case against the church to speak.

In its comments to the AP, the church declined to answer questions about the apparent contradiction.


Rezendes reported from New York.


Contact AP's global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org or https://www.ap.org/tips/