Someday, a qualified sociologist will study the last 60 years and explain the reluctance of the church to see and deal with sexual misconduct. Possibly a clinical, and secular, autopsy of the phenomenon will disclose cause and lead to a cure or prevention for future generations. Part of the problem such a study will have to overcome will be the bias of hindsight. Of course, the problem was not just in the church, as the case below makes clear. But, the church was the place the blindness was least expected.
In John Does v Boy Scouts of America and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Memorandum and Order, (D. Idaho, 2019), the federal trial court as trial loomed ruled upon motions in limine. Such motions were filed by the Boy Scouts and the church to exclude the files of the Boy Scouts regarding volunteers and employees against which charges of sexual misconduct were considered during the last several decades. Some of the charges were investigated by the Boy Scouts but the lawsuit may hinge on whether the response to the charges was adequate or appropriate. The Boy Scouts urged the files should be excluded from evidence because they contained hearsay and were not official governmental investigations. The church argued the files should be excluded because the church did not know of the existence of the files. Of course, the ignorance defense of the church, a type of innocence defense, aids the Plaintiffs in their quest to prove the Boy Scouts obscured or hid the problem of sexual predators in their midst for decades. Also, the files may arguably by their numbers indicate the church had to know, too. The trial court overruled the motions. While that does not mean each file or document within each will be admitted in evidence, it does mean more will be admitted than excluded all things being equal.
Mandatory child sexual misconduct reporting laws will be enforced, even if the enforcement is many years after the events alleged. Churches, schools, and youth services providers must train out of existence the idea that they get to decide internally or privately the issue of credibility, guilty, fault, or punishment. Pastors, especially, and church leaders that try to exercise discretion about whether to report or not because they are uncertain if allegations are “true” are inviting public censure at the least and jail time at the worst. In the middle are substantial money damages for which most churches do not have sufficient insurance coverage. If the question of reporting is really unclear, the church should immediately engage counsel to render an opinion about the necessity of reporting and risks of failing to do so.