By Rosemary Pollock
Some Clergy Find Utah Supreme Court Ruling Incomplete
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- In spite of the recent unanimous ruling
by the Utah Supreme Court to uphold the First Amendment's ban on
government regulation of religious practice, Utah men and women of
the cloth say they will not lower the standards they have set for
themselves in counseling troubled parishioners.
Earlier this month the justices supported a lower court's dismissal
of a claim from a purported victim in a child rape lawsuit
against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Due to a
condition called, "repressed memory" Lynette Franco did not report
the alleged 1986 incident until eight years ago. Franco claims that
church leaders and a church-recommended counselor told her to
"forgive and forget" the alleged assault by then 14-year-old church
member, Jason Strong. Franco was seven at the time.
The secular counselor reported the case to the police but prosecutors
said too much time had passed to pursue charges. It was at this time
that Franco's family sued The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. Ed Montgomery, the family attorney, said the family is
considering appealing the U.S. Supreme Court following it's recent
While, Dale Bills, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints praised Utah Justices for "preserving religious
liberty and freedom for all," other denominations have given mixed
reviews. "It encourages apathy on the part of clergy," said the Rev.
Handi Jo Dolloff-Holt, the associate pastor of Christ United
Methodist Church in Salt Lake City. "Basically, it says that even
though we are required by law to report abuse to the appropriate
authorities, we are not ultimately accountable for failure to uphold
the law," Rev. Dolloff-Holt said. "Clergy have an even greater
obligation as we are ministers of the gospel of peace and love," the
Rev. Dollof-Holt added.
Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald agreed that no judicial finding
"makes it OK to malpractice. We are judged by our deeds, one way or
another." The Vicar General of the Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese
sees the ruling as one of responsibility. "What falls to us is to
properly educate our clergy and do the best we can to provide
supervision and training necessary," Monsignor Fitzgerald added. "We
have to do that, no matter what the courts say."
The decision does not preclude the state law requiring clergy to
report child abuse. However, they are granted the sanctity of the
confessional and are not required to reveal the confessions of crimes
by perpetrators. Many clergy do not rule out reporting child abuse
and often encourage the confessor to turn themselves in.
"I would encourage them to go to the authorities, or I would,
especially with anything involving children," said Rev. Roger
Anderson, pastor of Salt Lake City's Our Savior's Lutheran Church.
"I'd let them know up front it was something I would have to share.
That's just gut stuff. You just have to do what's right, so I would
report it." he said.
In subsequent comments to The Salt Lake Tribune, Church spokesman
Dale Bills emphasized that church leaders are routinely urged to seek
professional aid in such cases. "For more than a decade, Mormon
bishops have received formal training from LDS Family Service
professionals on a variety of counseling issues. A 24-hour hotline
also has been made available for consultation," Bills said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocum said that the recent
charges against bishops of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints has caused him to personally screen any future cases that are
referred to his office. "It involves people we don't ordinarily see
in the criminal justice system," Yocom explained. "They are good
people trying to do a job----upstanding members of the community. We
want to make sure that the evidence is there before we charge them."
The Pastor's Predicament
Salt Lake Tribune 24Mar01 N1
By Bob Mims and Michael Vigh: Salt Lake Tribune