Few scandals have stirred up as much anxiety, anger, and sadness as that of Joseph Bishop, the former MTC president accused by at least two women of sexual predation while they were serving as missionaries under his care. The fact that anyone, let alone a priesthood leader, could be so reckless and hurtful toward those most vulnerable is as unnerving as it is disappointing.
And in the wake of this still-developing story, many Latter-day Saints are hoping for swift and deliberate action from Church leadership. While a public proclamation on the excommunication of Brother Bishop is unlikely, the Church has issued multiple statements on the situation over the past week, and the newest is a letter from the First Presidency directed to all General Authorities, Area Presidencies, Area Seventies, stake presidencies, bishops, and branch presidents, as well as updated instructions on how to deal with abuse.
The letter reads as follows:
In 2008, the First Presidency issued a letter encouraging Church leaders to reach out in love to assist those who were suffering from abuse. This global issues continues to be of great concern to us today. Our hearts and prayers go out to all who are affected by this serious problem.
To help ensure the safety and protection of children, youth, and adults, we ask that all priesthood and auxiliary leaders become familiar with existing Church policies and guidelines on preventing and responding to abuse. A revised statement of these policies and guidelines is enclosed. We request that stake presidents and bishops once again review the attached with their stake and ward councils and teach this information as directed in the enclosure.
May the Lord bless you in your efforts to protect God’s children from abuse.
The First Presidency
In the guidelines, the First Presidency reminds us that abuse is “sinful, tragic, and in total opposition to the teachings of the Savior” and that “Those who commit abuse in any way are accountable to God.” Also, there is a reminder that leaders should not disregard reports of abuse by membership, nor dissuade members reporting abuse from alerting the authorities.
Likewise—and something easily lost in the current climate—is that leaders have a responsibility to help the abuser repent and become clean. It is quite easy to want justice and punishment for the perpetrator, which is absolutely appropriate, but the repentance process is vital, as well. After all, Church discipline exists both to protect the Church and its members, as well as to help the sinner find peace through the Atonement. None of that diminishes the gravity of the abuse levied against the innocent and the very real consequences of those actions for all parties involved.
Those who have long rallied for the Church to accommodate the presence of parents or other adults during interviews with youth will find guidelines addressing that very thing. Leaders are now encouraged to keep parents or another adult close by or in the same room as the child if requested.
When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.
We can only hope the Joseph Bishop situation helps move Mormonism into a more proactive place when it comes to dealing with abuse.