Church's sex offender secrecy deplored

The Southland Times, New Zealand/July 18, 2008

Churches have been criticised by a District Court judge for dealing with sexual offenders "in-house".

Judge Robert Wolff was sentencing Raphael Giuseppe Caccioppoli, 37, who had been a member and Sunday school teacher with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to five years jail.

Caccioppoli, a former judicial officer, appeared for sentence in the Invercargill District Court yesterday on indecency, sexual and violence offences.

He earlier pleaded guilty to 13 charges, including seven of performing an indecent act on two boys aged 10 and 12 years old, one each of sexual violation, indecent assault on an 18-year-old man, and committing an act of indecency on a dog, and two of assault between October 1990 and July 2007.

The court was told the church knew Caccioppoli had sexually offended against boys but did not tell police.

Defence counsel Bill Dawkins said his client had disclosed details of his offending to his church as early as one month after he committed an indecent act on a 12-year-old boy in 1998.

The church had held many meetings with Caccioppoli. In August 2005 he was told the matter was resolved and he was excommunicated in 2006, Dawkins said.

Excommunication is the most severe discipline that can be handed out by the Mormon church. Excommunicated members can no longer wear sacramental garments, attend church meetings or actively participate in church services, although they can still attend church in a limited role.

But police did not become aware of any of Caccioppoli's offending until he assaulted a man and a woman in Invercargill on July 30 last year, which brought the "house of cards" down, he said.

Judge Wolff criticised the church's handling of the issue.

"I would like to encourage churches in these circumstances to not endeavour to deal with these things in-house. They are ill- equipped to do so and there are better and wiser courses to follow," he said.

If Caccioppoli's offending had been "acknowledged in the appropriate place" some of his later offending may not have occurred, Judge Wolff said.

Mormon church spokeswoman Melanie Riwai-Couch last night declined to comment on the case and criticism of the church, saying she had not been given sufficient time.

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