Monday, December 13, 2010

Idaho's Clergy Privilege Law May Have Delayed Bringing Former LDS Boise Police Officer Stephen Young To Justice For Child Molestation

A former Boise police officer who was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made the news on December 13th, 2010. Specifically, media outlets are questioning whether or not several LDS members might have attempted to cover it up; McClatchyDC has published the primary story under the provocative and inflammatory title of "Did fellow Mormons cover up officer's baby molestations?" But when you read the story, you'll find that Idaho's clergy privilege laws may have delayed bringing the man to justice.

The man in question is Stephen R. Young, a former member of the Boise Police Department and now a former member of the LDS Church. According to KHQ Channel 6 and the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Young first confessed to church officials in January 2010; they urged him to turn himself in. Young then turned himself on March 2nd, 2010, two days after abruptly retiring from the police department, after confessing to child molestation to a fellow church member who was also a Boise police officer, who in turn was duty-bound to report the crimes. Young ultimately admitted to molesting four children, ages 1 month to 21 months, between 2005 and 2008. He initially was charged with four counts of lewd conduct with a minor but later pleaded guilty to one count of sexual battery of a child. In June 2010, Young pleaded guilty in 4th District Court to one count of sexual battery of a minor child 16 to 17 years of age and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

However, media sources state that at least 15 other church members knew about this for several months but failed to report it to authorities. They investigated the 15 members and found them to be covered by Idaho's clergy privilege laws, so they're off the hook. KTVB Channel 7 news video embedded below:

There are two clergy privilege laws which appear to discourage church leaders from reporting a confession of child molestation or abuse to authorities (unless, of course, they personally witness it):

-- Idaho Code 16-1605, a state law modified in 1995 to include language that says a “duly ordained minister of religion, who has been ordained or set apart ... to hear confessions and confidential communications” doesn’t have to report suspected abuse to law enforcement — even if potential victims are in danger. The phrase “set apart” covers members of the High Council and other lay LDS leaders.

-- Idaho Code 9-203 and criminal rule of evidence 505 govern confidential communication. If a clergy member, against an individual’s wishes, reports something confessed privately, the clergy would be violating the law and could be sued.

From this account, we can deduce who the 15 LDS members might have been; the bishop, the three-person stake presidency, and 11 of the 12 members of the stake high council. All are "set apart" for their positions, thus all can be considered covered under Idaho's clergy privilege laws. The stake presidency and high council probably got involved during the disciplinary court which led to Young's excommunication from the Church. Young's bishop denies allegations that he made calls to keep Young out of jail; the bishop said he had no recollection of making any phone calls on Young’s behalf or making any attempt to keep him from reporting the abuse.

The 12th high council member was Kyle Christenson, the police officer to whom Stephen Young confessed on March 2nd, 2010; Christenson was asked not to be involved in the disciplinary court because it would create an irrevocable conflict between his clergy privilege and the fact that he was bound by duty to report crimes.

Since this post was published, KTVB Channel 7 has posted this official statement from the LDS Church:

"The Church made sure Mr. Young was removed from his home, and it took additional measures to protect known victims. There was also a clear understanding between Mr. Young and Church leaders that his actions needed to be reported to the police. Church leaders did all they could while complying with Idaho law that protects Mr. Young's confession to clergy and also avoiding any actions that might compromise the eventual investigation of Mr. Young's crimes.”

LDS Church doctrine encourages anyone who knows about child abuse to report it. If that knowledge is acquired by a member of the clergy, the church official counsels the guilty person to tell police the truth. The LDS Church also has a Family Services hotline staffed 24 hours a day by licensed clinical social workers, who can give guidance and advice to people who commit crimes, victims, other family members, or church officials who hear about any form of child abuse. The phone calls also include legal advice — such as what the reporting laws are in the states where the abuse occurred in. The hotline is especially important since officials like bishops or stake presidents are volunteers and may not have specific training on how to deal with legal reporting requirements or how to counsel victims of crimes.

Those who believe this situation should have been handled more expeditiously should advocate for changes to the Idaho clergy privilege law to immunize church leaders against civil suits for reporting crimes to authorities rather than accuse Church members of "covering up".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is also the fact that legally protected confessions are made and then violated, certain damning evidence may not be admissible in court.