An Arizona lawsuit filed in December 2020 alleges the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) failed to report child sex abuse to authorities. The complaint argues this lack of reporting by church officials allowed a perpetrator to keep abusing children. Church officials are mandated reporters under Arizona law.
Paul Douglas Adams Confessed Child Sexual Abuse To Bishop
In 2011, Paul Douglas Adams, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, confessed to sexually abusing his children to the bishop of the Bisbee, Arizona, ward of the LDS. The bishop called the Church’s sexual abuse hotline for help. Citing the confidentiality of confession, the hotline told the bishop not to report the abuse to authorities.
Lawyers for the LDS Church claimed confidentiality of clergy-penitent privilege. They said this prevented the bishop from reporting the abuse to authorities. Similarly, the Catholic Church has come under fire for using the clergy-penitent privilege as an excuse over their mishandling of priest abuse claims.
The lawyer who filed the 87-page complaint disagreed. Breaking such confidence to report child abuse is not against the law. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, the bishop had a legal and moral obligation to protect the children and contact authorities but failed to do so.
Failure To Report Allowed Abuse To Continue For Years
Parties named in the lawsuit include the Corporation of the President of the Church, the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church, two former Arizona bishops, the medical practice owned by one of the bishops, and other members of the congregation. Others may also be named. The suit alleges these people knew of the child sex abuse but did not report it.
The silence of LDS Church leaders allowed Paul Adams to continue abusing the children from 2010 to 2017. The lawsuit states that this failure to report enabled “the horrible sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children between the ages of six weeks and 12 years old that went on for seven years.”
Arizona law classifies clergy members as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. Other professionals tasked as mandatory reporters in Arizona include educators and medical professionals.
Child Sex Abuse Included Rape And Child Pornography
Paul Douglas Adams was indicted on 27 counts of child sex crimes, including rape and child pornography. Adams confessed to making thousands of pieces of child pornography and sharing them online.
Adams’ victims included an older child, referred to as Jane Doe I in the lawsuit, and Jane Doe II, a child born after LDS leaders knew of the ongoing abuse. Adams also recorded that abuse and shared it online. The child pornography has been shared widely on the dark web.
Using facial recognition software, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified Adams in a video. This led to his arrest in 2017.
In December 2017, Paul Douglas Adams died by suicide. Adams hanged himself in his jail cell while awaiting trial.
His wife, Leizza Adams, allegedly knew of the abuse but remained silent. The bishop told her of the confessed abuse in hope of her removing the children from the home. She did not act on that information.
In 2018, Leizza Adams pleaded no contest to two counts of child abuse. She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison followed by four years of probation. Arizona State took custody of the children.
The child pornography showing the children has been circulated widely. To protect the children’s safety, their faces cannot be shown on social media.
The lawsuit argues that the silence of LDS Church leaders allowed this abuse to continue. In 2013, Adams was excommunicated from the Church, but that did not stop the abuse. The suit seeks to change Church policy for reporting child sexual abuse.
Church leaders can be important allies in stopping perpetrators from abusing children. Several years of abuse could have been prevented, possibly saving the younger child from being abused at all. Learn more about reporting sexual abuse and assault here >
Children’s Bureau. (2019, April). Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.
Complaint for Plaintiffs, v. The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, No. S0200CV202000599 [Ariz. Nov. 30 2020.]
Curtis, L.D. (2020, December 21). Lawsuit alleges LDS Church, leaders knew of child sex abuse but failed to report it. KUTV.
Longa, L. (2020, December 7). Attorney sues Mormon church, others in horrific child abuse case. Herald Review.
Murillo, L. (2020, November 30). News 4 Tucson Investigators: Bisbee church at center of sexual abuse claim. News 4 Tucson.
Neff, T.J. (2019, December 11). Mormon Officials In Bisbee Being Investigated For Not Reporting Child Sex Abuse. Arizona Daily Independent.
SNAP. (2020, December 2). Brisbee Abuse Case Underscores Need to Eliminate Clergy Penitent Privilege.