Ritual child abuse accusations in the 1990s

What was the ritual child or Satanic abuse in the 1990s?

Accusations by a Therapist in Lehi, Utah

The the ritual child or Satanic abuse scare in the 1990s in Utah began in 1985 in Lehi, Utah, as described by social historian Massimo Introvigne:

During the Summer of 1985 Mrs. Sheila Bowers of Lehi, Utah, contacted Dr. Barbara Snow, a therapist working with the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center. Bowers was worried about her three small children, who seemed to talk too freely about sex. Dr. Snow interviewed the children and concluded that they had in fact been sexually abused. Dr. Snow claimed that the children had told her about the perpetrator, a teenage babysitter who was the daughter of Keith Burnham, the respected Bishop of the Lehi Eight[h] Ward of the Mormon Church. Dr. Snow also asked to interview other Lehi children who had been attended by the same babysitter, and most of the families involved decided to comply.[1]

As a result of the interviews, the Burnhams were accused of abusing a number of children in the area, and the Burnham parents were accused of abusing their own children. Utah's Family Services division investigated the Burnham parents and found no evidence of abuse. Additional interviews with other children led to claims that children in the area were being forced to participate in Satanic rituals.

Police began investigating these various claims. "When the police concluded their investigation in 1987, Dr. Snow had accused fourty adults—almost all of them active Mormons in Lehi's Eight[h] Ward—to be ritual child abusers and members of a secret Satanic cult."[2] Only one individual was charged with child abuse, and during his trial a county attorney asserted that Dr. Snow was forcing children to admit to abuse that the children never experienced.

Dr. Snow made additional accusations over the next two years about Satanic cults in Bountiful and Salt Lake City, Utah. An investigation was started in Salt Lake but discontinued after more than a year.[3]

The Glenn Pace Memo and Further Developments

It was in this context that the "Glenn Pace Memo" was created.

On May 24, 1989 the LDS Social Services released a report on Satanism, followed by another report from the U.S. attorney for Utah Brent Ward (an active Mormon) and a further memorandum from Bishop Glen L. Pace, then Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, dated October 20, 1989. All these documents have never been published. A fourth document, a memorandum also authored by Bishop Pace and directed to the Strengthening Church Members Committee on July 19, 1990, although marked "Do not reproduce", came into the possession of Evangelical Salt Lake counter-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner in 1991. . . . In November 1991 the Tanners published the memo.[4]

In the memo, Bishop Pace explained that he had met with 60 purported victims of ritual or Satanic abuse. The victims provided detailed descriptions of their abuse and asserted that the perpetrators of the abuse had been youth leaders, bishops, temple workers, and at least one stake president. As a result of these interviews, Bishop Pace believed there was a high likelihood of a Satanic cult existing in Utah or among the Latter-day Saints. Bishop Pace quoted several scriptures to show that the rise of Satanic cults had been prophesied of in the Book of Mormon.

In the middle of these reports being written, the remains of an infant were discovered in late 1989 in southern Idaho, with the body apparently showing evidence of ritual abuse. In early 1990, a 10 year old boy in southern Idaho whose family were Latter-day Saints claimed that he had been abused and tortured as part of Satanic rituals. Both cases became national news and led to somewhat of a hysteria-like atmosphere in the Mountain West. (The Idaho Attorney General's Office thoroughly investigated both issues and concluded that the remains of the infant did not in fact show signs of abuse but rather animal mutilation, and the boy had in fact never witnessed or been abused as part of a Satanic ritual.)[5]

Utah Attorney General Investigations

It was during this period that the Utah State Task Force on Ritual Abuse was created in March 1990. This task force was created to investigate claims of ritual abuse in Utah and provide education to professionals and the public on the possibility of ritual abuse. To assist with the investigation of claims, the Utah State Attorney General's Office later assigned individuals to investigate these claims and prepare recommendations for future investigations. In a report published in 1995, the Attorney General's Office explained that "during an exhaustive two year search, the Unit has investigated over 125 cases of alleged ritual crime."[6] The investigation report concluded:

The complexity of the problem required detailed planning, tireless research and cooperation. Every police chief, sheriff, law enforcement executive, many of the state's therapists, religious leaders and community leaders were contacted. . . . Investigators statewide were told stories of bizarre sexual and physical abuse. . . . Utah's police officers and their departments have dedicated thousands of hours as they followed up on allegations, searched hillsides for ritual sites, "staked-out" potential ceremonies, etc. Their combined efforts were unable to uncover any phsycial evidence to support the claims of the existence of organized cults. Evidence has been uncovered to support the thought that individuals have in the past, and are now committing crime in the name of Satan or other deity. The allegations of organized satanists, even groups of satanists who have permeated every level of government and religion were unsubstantiated.[7]

The report also warned against "recovered memory" therapy, which had been prominently used by therapists, including Dr. Snow, to "uncover" ritual and Satanic abuses:

Often the reports of victims are based on "recovered memories", which were blocked at an early age and are only recalled after some intensive therapeutic intervention. This therapy often involves hypnosis. The Utah Supreme Court has said unequivocally that a prosecution cannot be based upon testimony that is hypnotically-refreshed or enhanced, dur to the unreliability and suggestibility of that process. State v. Tuttle, 780 P.2d 1203 (Utah 1989), cert. denied 494 U.S. 1018 (1990). Most courts throughout the country which have addressed the issue have ruled that the outcome of hypnotherapy is not reliable enough to be admissible in court proceedings. Even when hynposis is not directly involved, there is enough controversy about the entire issue of "recovered memories" in the field of psychology, that the courts are unlikely to admit such evidence without showing that the memory of the victim is reliable.[8]


The ritual or Satanic abuse scare in the 1990s in Utah failed to reveal any cults or other systemic ritual programs. However, the Church has consistently warned its members against participating in any group or activity that may resemble the occult. A recent addition to the General Handbook states:

"That which is of God is light" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24). The occult focuses on darkness and leads to deception. It destroys faith in Christ.

The occult includes Satan worship. It also includes mystical activities that are not in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such activities include (but are not limited to) fortune-telling, curses, and healing practices that are imitations of the priesthood power of God (see Moroni 7:11–17).

Church members should not engage in any form of Satan worship or participate in any way with the occult. They should not focus on such darkness in conversations or in Church meetings.[9]


  1. Massimo Introvigne, "A Rumor of Devils: The Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare in the Mormon Church," Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture 6, no. 1 (Winter/Spring 1997), 87–88.
  2. Introvigne, "A Rumor of Devils," 88
  3. Introvigne, "A Rumor of Devils," 87–91
  4. Introvigne, "A Rumor of Devils," 93
  5. Introvigne, "A Rumor of Devils," 91–92
  6. Ritual Crime in the State of Utah: Investigation, Analysis & A Look Forward (Utah Attorney General's Office, prepared for the Utah State Legislature, 1995), 3; see also page 2.
  7. Ritual Crime in the State of Utah," 47; see also page 48.
  8. Ritual Crime in the State of Utah," 4; see also page 5.
  9. General Handbook, 38.6.12 "The Occult".