Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Summary: Several criticisms and questions have arisen about the Church's approach to and stance on abuse. This page is a compilation of pages that respond to the various questions and criticisms.

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Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church has a no-tolerance stance toward abuse

The Church's handbooks emphasize that one purpose of Church discipline is to protect the innocent, especially against such crimes as predatory sexual behavior:

The second purpose of Church discipline is to protect the innocent. With inspiration, a priesthood leader should act to protect others when a transgressor poses a physical or spiritual threat to them, such as by predatory practices, physical harm, sexual abuse, drug misuse, fraud, or apostasy (see Alma 5:59–60). (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.1.2)

Likewise, victims of such crimes are innocent of sin:

In instances of abuse, the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. Victims of sexual abuse (including rape) often suffer serious trauma and feelings of guilt.

Victims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin. Church leaders should be sensitive to such victims and give caring attention to help them overcome the destructive effects of abuse. (Handbook 1 [2010], 17.3.2)

Members who are victims of these sins are innocent of any wrongdoing

  1. Sexual crimes virtually always require excommunication from the Church, and members guilty of these serious crimes have annotations placed upon their membership record that remain even if they return to full membership. Members guilty of such crimes have a lifetime ban on service with youth, missionary service, and temple service.
  2. Members who are victims of these sins are innocent of any wrongdoing. The Church encourages them to seek help, and to receive the healing available to all through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

Help for victims of abuse

Those who have been the victims of the unrighteous acts of others are not guilty of any sin. Latter-day Saints believe that the atonement of Christ can heal all suffering, injustices, and traumas through Christ's grace. Many articles and resources are available, and members with such concerns are encouraged to consult with their local leaders.

One guide for bishops begins:

Abuse includes the physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual mistreatment of others. The first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused in a kind and sensitive way and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. Abuse not only harms the body, but also deeply affects the mind and spirit. It often destroys faith and always causes confusion, doubt, mistrust, guilt, and fear. Help the member understand that he or she is not responsible for the abuser’s behavior and that faith can be regained or strengthened and hope and healing can come through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.[1]

Mandatory discipline for the perpetrator of the abuse

Church disciplinary action is required for a small set of sins, such as murder. Sexual abuse and incest are included in this group:


As used here, incest refers to sexual intercourse between a parent and a natural, adopted, or foster child or a stepchild. A grandparent is considered the same as a parent. Incest also refers to sexual intercourse between brothers and sisters. It almost always requires excommunication. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. The stake president may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary. If a minor commits incest, the stake president contacts the Office of the First Presidency for direction.

Child Abuse

As used here, child abuse refers to a sexual offense against a child or physical abuse of a child. If priesthood leaders learn of or suspect child abuse, they follow the instructions in 17.3.2 [see above]. If a minor abuses a child, the stake president contacts the Office of the First Presidency for direction....

Transgressor Who Is a Predator

A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression that shows him to be a predator with tendencies that present any kind of serious threat to other persons.(Handbook 1 [2010], 6.7.3, (italics in original)

Results of discipline

Incest virtually always requires excommunication from the Church:

Excommunication is mandatory for murder...and is almost always required for incest. (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.9.3)

Return to Church membership

The First Presidency must approve any restoration of Church membership for those guilty of particularly serious sins, including:

... 2.Incest

3.Sexual offense against a child or serious physical abuse of a child by an adult or by a youth who is several years older than the child.... (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.12.10)

Flagging Church membership records

Those guilty of abuse of a child and other serious sins which place others at risk have their Church records annotated, and this annotation remains on the record permanently (even in the event of reinstatement in the Church). Only the First Presidency can authorize the removal of such an annotation:

incest, sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child,...predatory conduct.... (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.13.4)

Abusers are have lifetime ineligiblity for some callings and assignments in the Church

Even if they repent and return to full time activity in the Church, those who commit some crimes are ineligible for some types of Church service. These include:

Temple ordinance workers must:

5. Never have received formal Church discipline for sexual abuse.

6.Never have had his or her membership record annotated (see above). (Handbook 1 [2010], 3.10.2)

Those wishing to serve full-time missions are ineligible if, among other things, they

[h]ave been convicted of sexual abuse. (Handbook 1 [2010], 4.4)

Service with children or youth is also an area of particular concern:

A person whose membership record is annotated for having abused a child sexually or physically must not be given any calling or assignment involving children or youth. Also, careful consideration should be given to other assignments, such as home teaching or visiting teaching. These restrictions should remain in place until the First Presidency authorizes removal of the annotation.... (Handbook 1 [2010], 17.3.2)

Resources include:

General authority addresses

Other materials


  1. Bishop's Guide: Helping Victims of Abuse (on-line, accessed 8 January 2013).

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Question: 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".

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Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Question: Do the scriptures endorse child abuse?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #412: How Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac Illuminates the Atonement (Video)

It is claimed that God’s command of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is an example of divinely endorsed child abuse.

Some claim that God’s command of Abraham to slay Isaac is an example of divinely endorsed child abuse. Anyone who knows the story is aware that the story is not about abusing Isaac nor does it even insinuate such. Rather, it is about God’s desire for Abraham to be willing to follow him despite hard trials to follow in his life. It also foreshadows the offering of God’s only begotten son in the flesh—Jesus Christ—saving us in Gethsemane and on the cross.

It is also claimed that God’s sending of Christ to be crucified instead of himself is such an example

In the case of Christ, some secular critics claim that God is an abuser by sending his son to die on the cross. The short answer is that Christ was foreordained to come to earth to redeem all mankind. He voluntarily gave himself in the pre-mortal council to become our Savior (Moses 4:1-2; Rev 13:8; 1 Peter 19:21). Upon coming here to earth, his agency was not taken away from him. He had the ability to put down his life and to take it back up (John 10:18). It was God’s plan from the beginning, but the supernal gift and voluntary sacrifice of a loving Savior.

There are cases where the Bible may be endorsing corporal punishment, which many see as child abuse

There are scriptures in the Bible that some see as endorsing corporal punishment and many today see corporal punishment as child abuse.

One example of this is Proverbs 13:24

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Other examples can be found in Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 26:3, and Proverbs 29:15.

The meaning of these scriptures is unclear. Readers are encouraged to simply be aware of them and, by the Spirit, discern their proper interpretation for their own circumstances.

Further reading



  1. REDIRECT Abuse victims and lack of culpability

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  1. REDIRECTAbuse victims and lack of culpability

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Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Some individuals wonder if one-on-one interviews between youth and adult leaders is appropriate. This is especially relevant regarding discussions about chastity sexuality.

Jennifer Roach, a convert to the Church and therapist, explained many reasons for allowing one-on-one interviews between youth and adult leaders.

Roach has also talked about this in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune.[1] She has also published about some of the unique protections offered by the Church against abuse at Public Square Magazine.[2]


  1. Peggy Fletcher Stack, "LDS bishops’ interviews can help teens with sex questions, says therapist who was abused by clergy," Salt Lake Tribune, August 16, 2020.
  2. Jennifer Roach, "Better Protecting Children of All Faiths," Public Square Magazine, May 31, 2022, https://publicsquaremag.org/sexuality-family/sexual-abuse/better-protecting-children-of-all-faiths/.

Question: What was the Indian Student Placement Services program?

This page is still under construction. We welcome any suggestions for improving the content of this FAIR Answers Wiki page.

Introduction to Question

Many have become concerned with the past existence of a program designed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for Indian placement. It is known as the Indian Student Placement Services Program.

In this article, we introduce what it was and address some common concerns/criticisms that have arisen in recent years because of it.

Response to Question

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Native Americans”

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992) relates the following information about the program. The entry was written in 1992, four years before the program was officially disbanded in 1996. Thus the entry, while it treats the program as still existing, is partially incorrect:

The Indian Student Placement Services (ISPS) seeks to improve the educational attainment of Native American children by placing member Indian children with LDS families during the school year. Foster families, selected because of their emotional, financial, and spiritual stability, pay all expenses of the Indian child, who lives with a foster family during the nine-month school year and spends the summer on the reservation with his or her natural family. Generally, the children enter the program at a fairly young age and return year after year to the same foster family until they graduate from high school.

From a small beginning in 1954, the program peaked in 1970 with an enrollment of nearly 5,000 students. The development of more adequate schools on reservations has since then reduced the need for the program and the number of participants has declined. In 1990, about 500 students participated. More than 70,000 Native American youngsters have participated in ISPS, and evaluations have shown that participation significantly increased their educational attainment.

In the 1950s, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then an apostle, encouraged Brigham Young University to take an active interest in Native American education and to help solve economic and social problems. Scholarships were established, and a program to help Indian students adjust to university life was inaugurated. During the 1970s more than 500 Indian students, representing seventy-one tribes, were enrolled each year. But enrollment has declined, so a new program for Indian students is being developed that will increase the recruiting of Native American students to BYU and raise the percentage who receive a college degree. The Native American Educational Outreach Program at BYU presents educational seminars to tribal leaders and Indian youth across North America. It also offers scholarships. American Indian Services, another outreach program originally affiliated with BYU, provides adult education and technical and financial assistance to Indian communities. In 1989, American Indian Services was transferred from BYU to the Lehi Foundation, which continues this activity.

In 1975, George P. Lee, a full-blooded Navajo and an early ISPS participant, was appointed as a General Authority. He was the first Indian to achieve this status and served faithfully for more than ten years. Elder Lee became convinced that the Church was neglecting its mission to the Lamanites, and when he voiced strong disapproval of Church leaders, he was excommunicated in 1989.[1]

Was the Program an Attempt at Turning Native Americans “White and Delightsome”?

Kevin Barney, a Latter-day Saint apologist, wrote the following in response to a criticism of the ISPS given by critics Thomas W. Murphy and Simon Southerton. The criticism of Murphy and Southerton practically mirrors the concerns/criticisms of other critics today.[2]

Murphy comes down extremely hard on the Church’s Indian Student Placement Program. He writes: “The Placement Program, deemed cultural genocide by critics, removed over 70,000 Native American children from their homes from 1954-96 and placed them with urban white Mormon families in systematic efforts to turn Indians ‘white and delightsome.'” The shrillness of this statement is irresponsible and reflects a lack of scholarly balance and detachment. The Placement Program grew out of informal arrangements between Utah beet farmers and children of Navajo migrant pickers in the 1940s. Eventually it became a formal program, whereby Native American children were housed with Mormon families during the school year so that they could attend school; they returned to live with their families during the summers. The goals of the Program were both educative and acculturative. Now, perhaps trying to help Native American children gain the tools to succeed in the dominant anglo culture was not an appropriate or worthy goal. Certainly there is plenty of room for responsible criticism of the aims, administration and effects of the Program. But to evoke images of the Holocaust or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia with the incredibly hyperbolic “cultural genocide” is in my judgment an irresponsible way to go about it. To the contrary, many Native Americans have been upset that the Church has terminated or greatly scaled back both the Placement Program and other programs intended to serve Native American interests. So the Church is damned if it tries to help, and damned if it does not. To say that the children were “removed” in the passive voice ominously suggests to the uninformed reader that this was somehow done against their parents’ wishes. This is simply not true. For the reader interested in a more balanced anthropological consideration of the Placement Program, I recommend the studies indicated in the accompanying note.[3]

Barney recommends the following resources in order to get a balanced treatment of the ISPS:

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Question: Why was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints involved in a lawsuit along with the Boy Scouts of America?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was involved in a lawsuit along with the Boy Scouts of America. Thousands of men came forward charging both organizations with systemic abuse and coverup of that abuse.

This various concerns that have arisen because of this have been detailed and addressed by Casandra Hedelius: "The Church of Jesus Christ and the BSA Bankruptcy Case"

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Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Question: Did the Church intentionally cover up the ongoing abuse of MJ Adams of Bisbee, Arizona?

On August 4, 2022, investigative journalist Michael Rezendes published a story with the Associated Press covering a case of child sex abuse in Bisbee, Arizona involving a Latter-day Saint father and two of his female children.[4]

The story became widely popular overnight. Discussion and debate about the article was widespread. There have been numerous questions that have arisen because of the case and specifically The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ role in the case.

Complilation of Resources (Organized by Date of Publication)


  1. Bruce A. Chadwick and Thomas Garrow, “Native Americans,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 6 vols. (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1992; 2007), 3:984–85.
  2. See Thomas W. Murphy and Simon G. Southerton, “Genetic Research a ‘Galileo Event’ for Mormons,” Anthropology News 44, no. 2 (February 2003): 20.
  3. Kevin L. Barney, “A Brief Review of Murphy and Southerton’s ‘A Galileo Event’,” FAIR, accessed July 25, 2022, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/archive/publications/a-brief-review-of-murphy-and-southertons-galileo-event.
  4. Michael Rezendes, “Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen,” AP News, August 4, 2022; Michael Rezendes, "4 takeaways from AP’s Mormon church sex abuse investigation," AP News, August 4, 2022.