Set Adrift

As victims of child abuse come of age, religious and legal concerns collide

Salt Lake City Tribune/June 10, 2006
By Elizabeth Neff

Editor's Note: Although The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify alleged child abuse victims, Casey and his family agreed to the use of their first names. Only the first name of the alleged abuser is used because charges against him were dropped.

Dave was a Mormon bishop, a family man, a bank vice president known for getting neighborhood kids jobs.

"I could sit here for probably two hours and tell you all the things he did for our family," said his former neighbor, Linda. "He did it for tons of families."

But when Linda's teenaged son, Casey, turned to Dave for advice, prosecutors would charge years later, the bishop would sexually abuse the boy.

Casey kept that secret for years, finally confiding in a friend. His parents were devastated when he told them.

Now 29, Casey says Dave stole something from him that he can't get back. "I believe I would have been a completely different person if it hadn't happened to me," he says.

Dave's ecclesiastical leaders would excommunicate Dave, but they did not report Casey's allegations to police. Those leaders say there were good reasons for that decision, but the family feels betrayed.

It was Casey's mother who reported Dave, and in April 2004 he was charged with six felony counts of child sexual abuse. A year later, prosecutors delivered another blow to the family: Because of a legal technicality, Dave could not be brought to trial.

Now Casey no longer considers himself to be a Mormon. Linda struggles to reconcile her faith with her frustration. His father, Neil, still believes his church is true, but sometimes wonders about its earthly representatives.

Casey's whole family worries that both church and state sometimes fail the victims of child sexual abuse.

"That's why we want to talk about it," says Linda. "We want people to know how it's working now."

Go to the bishop

Linda and her husband, Neil, described their West Valley City neighborhood in the 1980s as the perfect place to raise their eight children.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the couple taught their children its values. Linda told them if they couldn't talk to her about a problem, they could always go to their bishop.

So in 1989, 13-year-old Casey did. "I went to him with a question about the feelings I was having toward men," he said.

Before becoming bishop, the charismatic Dave had helped to guide the ward's large number of young teenagers on "Super Saturday" events. Linda and Neil were pleased when the two began spending time together.

Casey said he once confided in a female friend and his sister about the abuse, but swore them both to secrecy. "It was really awful, and for years I would try and bring it up," said his sister, Emily. "But he wouldn't really even talk about it at all."

Casey would later tell police, and prosecutors would later charge, that Dave molested the teen at various locations over two years.

Dave, who has never been convicted of any kind of child abuse, and his wife declined to be interviewed, his wife saying only that their own family has "been through hell."

'Keep this low key'

Casey has long since moved out of state and says he has accepted that he is gay. But the past came rushing back in 2003 with a call from the old friend he had confided in.

She was worried, Casey said, about the risk to others if what he said was true. She contacted Lamont Crabtree, the bishop at the time, but didn't disclose Casey's identity. Casey felt relieved. "I wasn't responsible for a secret anymore."

In October 2003, Crabtree and stake president Bill Schaefermeyer summoned Dave to a church disciplinary hearing. Linda and Neil say they read a statement from their son. Dave was excommunicated "within a month following the report of his abusive conduct," the church said in a statement to The Tribune.

Casey and his family said they assumed church leaders would contact police, believing state law and church policy would require it. But as months passed without a call from investigators, Linda recalled a conversation with Schaefermeyer after the church hearing.

"He said to me, 'Well, we'd like to keep this low key,' " Linda said. "I should've not been so naive. I should have known then, because I said to him, 'What do you mean? We want it to be known.' "

Crabtree said he and Schaefermeyer consulted with church advisers and didn't call police because there were concerns about protecting Casey's privacy.

"As I understand it, it was all based on the fact that [Casey] is an adult and we can't usurp his rights to privacy," he said.

Linda eventually contacted police herself. Schaefermeyer did not return phone messages left by The Tribune seeking comment.

While investigating Casey's allegations, West Valley City police took statements from another man, Kevin, who also claimed Dave abused him when he was a teenager. Kevin, who also agreed to The Tribune's use of his first name, said Dave had taken an interest in him after his parents' divorce.

Charges filed - and dropped

Salt Lake County Assistant District Attorney Paul Parker, a veteran prosecutor of child sex crimes, took Casey's case even though the legal deadline, or statute of limitations, to file an adult sexual assault charge had passed.

Parker instead used a 1991 Utah statute that allows child sex crime charges to be filed within four years of an adult victim's report, as long as the abuse occurred when the now-adult was younger than 14.

The law could not be used in Kevin's case because he had been older when he was allegedly abused. But Parker thought the friend Casey had confided in could help him prove Casey had been younger than 14 when his alleged abuse occurred.

In April 2004, as reported in The Tribune, Dave was charged with three counts of sodomy on a child and three counts of child sexual abuse. Then an administrator for the Utah Department of Corrections, Dave pleaded innocent.

But as the investigation continued, Dave pointed to day-planner entries and other records that cast doubt about Casey's age when the first incident of alleged abuse occurred - 13 or 14.

Casey couldn't really remember. Parker said the law left him no choice but to drop the case.

The scenario isn't uncommon. Mary Leary, director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, said prosecution deadlines account for many of the 200 calls her group receives each month.

In March, Idaho joined 11 other states that have no limits on prosecuting most sexual offenses against children. Deadlines in other states hinge on the seriousness of the offense or when the alleged abuse is reported: how many years after a victim's 18th birthday, for example, or after a first report to police.

Defense attorney Kent Hart, president-elect of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, says defending against any accusation gets harder with fading memories and lost physical evidence. At some point, he said, potential defendants must be able to move on.

"I know the public doesn't want to hear that, because if it involves a child, they are going to be concerned," he said. "But at some point the Legislature and common sense would agree that enough is enough, the government shouldn't be allowed to keep hounding you indefinitely."

A duty to report?

Casey and his family feel church leaders should have alerted all ward members, especially parents, and police about the allegations.

"It's shaken my belief to the very core," Neil says. "The question I have is, are they really protecting their youth?"

Utah law requires any "person, official, or institution" to report suspected child sexual abuse. A court ruling makes an exception when an abuser confesses to a clergy member.

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills would not comment on church policy when a victim is 18 or older. In a statement, the church notes Casey's friend initially refused to identify Casey, and that she was urged to have him go to the police.

Once Dave's identity was known, Bills said, church leaders confirmed that Casey's family and "those close to" Dave were told, Bills said. Dave also "was immediately released from his church service responsibilities and action was taken to restrict his access to youth," Bills said.

Since 1995, the church has said, it places a notation on the membership records of "known abusers" to make sure they do not serve in any positions that would put them in direct contact with children.

Utah's reporting statute is silent on the issue of a duty to report child abuse after the victim turns 18, and no state court rulings address it.

West Valley City Police Detective Mike Powell, who investigated Casey's case, called it a frustrating one. "I'd be outraged as well if it were my child," he said. "I feel for the family."

Powell said police discussed the state's mandatory reporting laws with prosecutors, but "the decision was made that there were not going to be any charges filed."

'A tragedy for all parties'

Neil and Linda have moved out of their old ward, believing they were shunned for accusing a bishop of such a heinous crime. Sermons on forgiveness, so soon after what they had endured, were hard to take.

Crabtree said he saw "expressions of love" for both families. "The only thing I can say is that it's a tragedy for all parties," he said. "My heart goes out for both families."

Brad Burt, 58, was and is a ward member. His sons and daughters were Casey's friends, and Dave was a friend as well. But Burt says he disagrees with ward members who think church alone can heal abusers. As a recovering alcoholic, he said, it took years of treatment to get where he is today.

"You just don't start healing," he said. "They need extensive counseling and help."

Burt said he was often frustrated with the attitudes of some ward members when Dave continued to attend services after the excommunication, as the church allows.

"They hug [Dave], they love [Dave], but I'll guarantee you they don't hug [Casey's family]. They have a gay son," he said. "Casey always was different, and they knew."

Stung by the support she saw Dave getting, Kevin's mother, Jill, said she, too, is searching for her faith. Kevin, now 36, said he was afraid to tell anyone what he had been through.

"It's not that I thought [my parents] wouldn't believe me," he said, "but I knew the rest of the ward wouldn't believe."

He has struggled with depression and alcoholism, but has started praying again.

The episode has left members of Casey's family to work through their thoughts and feelings.

"I hope that someday I can [return to church], because it's been such a big part of my life," Linda said. "But right now . . . I don't feel it's fair for me to go over there because I feel other people might feel my anger, and I don't have a right to screw it up for everybody else."

Neil, the only one still attending church, says he knows he is "trodding on untrodden paths" by questioning the church's handling of the case. The ordeal has changed their family, but also drawn them closer, he said.

Casey no longer considers himself Mormon, but said he believes in God and maintains a "personal spiritual relationship."

He and his brother, Aaron, 32, say the church needs to be more forthright in dealing with suspected child abuse of any kind.

"They are acting like a business or a corporation or something trying to protect themselves," Aaron said. "I don't think they followed their own teachings."

Handling of a similar case in Texas

There is no legal precedent in Utah onwhether there is a duty to report child-abuse allegations after the possible victim turns 18. In 1997, a Texas appeals court considered a law similar to Utah's reporting statute and ruled churches were not meant to have a duty to report possible molestation to police once a victim turns 18.

" . . . If a 60-year-old woman reveals to her minister that she was abused as a child some 50 years ago, this minister could be either prosecuted or sued for failing to report the abuse to the proper authorities," which the law did not intend, the Texas court said.

David Clohessy, a victim of child sexual abuse and national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), disagrees. The same rationale, he said, has been cited by the Catholic Church, facing hundreds of adult victims who have claimed priest abuse.

"If a 50-year-old woman reported to a church official that she had put a bomb in a day-care center, no church leader would claim that an adult's alleged privacy rights trump the physical safety of dozens of kids," he said. "The alleged privacy rights of any grown-up pale when you are talking about the safety of kids being threatened."

Clohessy's group, which provides support for victims, has lobbied lawmakers nationwide to abolish legal deadlines for prosecuting child sexual-abuse cases.

LDS Church condemns abuse

Beginning in the 1990s, the LDS Church faced lawsuits across the country accusing it of failing to do enough to protect members from child sexual abusers in their wards. Much of the litigation has been settled out of court, including $3 million given to a California man. In late 2005, a Seattle jury awarded millions to two sisters who alleged the church violated reporting laws there and could have stopped their abuser.

The church says it condemns child abuse as the most heinous of evils and has publicized its efforts to combat it. Its lay clergy are offered training and a hot line, which puts them in touch with counselors and attorneys to discuss any allegations that arise.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.