What the bishops knew: Church releases details, timeline about Arizona sex abuse case

UPDATED: AUGUST 17, 2022 AT 9:36 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a lengthy statement Wednesday night detailing what it called “gross” and “egregious errors” in an Associated Press story last week about the church’s abuse help line and a case of child sexual abuse in Arizona.

The statement, reprinted in full below, reiterated the church’s policies that leaders and members who become aware of child sexual abuse should ensure that it is stopped and that victims receive care.

“What happened to the Adams children in Arizona at the hands of their parents is sickening, heartbreaking and inexcusable,” the statement said.

It also criticized the AP story for what it called “significant flaws” and for drawing “erroneous conclusions.” It said the help line is set up to protect child victims and that the story’s suggestion that the help line is used to cover up abuse is false.

The Deseret News reached out to the Associated Press on Wednesday evening for comment on the statement.

The statement comes 12 days after the church’s initial response to the story, which the church then said had “seriously mischaracterized” the help line, was “oversimplified and incomplete” and was “a serious misrepresentation of the church and its efforts.”

The new statement was released, the church said, because church leaders were aware that journalists and others wondered after the first statement what exactly the church believed was incorrect in the AP story. The second statement was designed to help media, members and others understand how the church handles child abuse, including particulars about the Arizona case, the statement said.

“The church has issued a strong response because this is a topic where there can be no mincing of words, no hint of apathy and no tolerance for any suggestion that we are neglectful or not doing enough on the issue of child abuse,” the statement said.

“We will not stand by while others mischaracterize or completely misrepresent the church’s long-term efforts and commitment,” it said. “Nor will we tolerate the Associated Press or any other media to make such gross errors on the details of such a tragic and horrific incident as what occurred in Arizona.”

What the bishops knew

Wednesday’s statement went into detail about what and when two bishops of an Arizona Latter-day Saint congregation knew about Paul Adams’ sexual abuse of his two daughters. Adams died by suicide in jail after he was arrested for child pornography for filming and distributing sexual acts with the girls.

The AP story reported that Adams told his Latter-day Saint bishop in 2011 that he was abusing his 5-year-old daughter. The story said the bishop did not report the abuse to authorities and that Adams continued to abuse the girl for seven more years, then began to sexually abuse her newborn sister.

The church’s statement said Adams made a limited confession to Bisbee (Arizona) Ward Bishop John Herrod about a single past incident of abuse of the oldest daughter.

“The bishop then called the help line, where he was advised about how to fully comply with Arizona’s reporting laws,” Wednesday’s statement said, “In compliance with that counsel, from that time forward, the bishop repeatedly tried to intervene and encourage reporting…”

The bishop asked Adams to report the abuse to police, but Adams refused and declined to give Herrod permission to make the report himself after his confidential confession, according to the church’s statement. Herrod also asked Adams’ wife, Leizza, to report. She refused and later served a prison sentence for failure to report sexual abuse.

Arizona law designates clergy members as mandatory reporters of abuse, but it includes an exception for clergy-penitent privilege. That means a clergy member is not required to report abuse if he or she determines that non-disclosure is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.

Herrod also encouraged Adams to move out of the family home, which he briefly did, and urged his wife to seek professional counseling for him and the family, which would have triggered a mandatory report of the abuse from the therapist, the church release states. Adams and his wife refused.

The church excommunicated Adams in 2013.

“It wasn’t until 2017, nearly four years later, that church leaders learned from media reports the extent of the abuse, that the abuse had continued and that it involved a second victim born after Paul’s excommunication,” the statement said. “The AP story ignores this timeline and sequence of events and implies that all these facts were known by a bishop as early as 2011, a clearly erroneous conclusion.”

The church’s statement also said its abuse help line complies with legal requirements in all 50 U.S. States and Canada.

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