Robert Metcalf Case Summary
This case arose in 1979 in Prescott, Arizona.
from “Sins of the Temple:”
“December 22- 28 1994
Phoenix New Times News and Features
Sins of the Temple
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasizes personal propriety and the value of children. The same church has protected serial child molesters across the country.
By Lisa Davis
Editor’s note: To protect the privacy of sexual abuse victims, some people in this report have been identified by first name only. Those first names are pseudonyms. All other names used in this report are real.
The Seeds of Abuse
The Mormon community in the small, rustic town of Mayer, just outside Prescott, considered Robert Gene Metcalf to be a decent man. People say he was a good provider who looked after his wife’s three children as though they were his own.
He was the kind of guy who was always ready to lend a hand to a neighbor, or help out with an activity at church.
A large stocky man, frequently decorated with a cowboy hat, Metcalf was prone to the kind of cordial conversation you’d expect from a salesman. He was “Gene” or “Brother Metcalf” To everyone who knew him, and “Robert” only on official documents.
Metcalf has had problems with the law, and some people had heard a thing or two about that, but one man’s sins are not another man’s business in Mayer. Besides, he obviously had dealt with those past problems. He was back in the good graces of the church.
He and his wife were blessed with a baby shortly after they were married. On top of that, his children from a previous marriage came to live with the family for a time. That made for a crowded house hold, but they seemed to manage on the money from his work at Bennett Oil and his wife’s job as an elementary schoolteacher.
Metcalf also was busy in the community’s social life, especially when it involved children. Always musically inclined, he took charge of performances the church put on to raise money and spirits. He helped out with the Boy Scout troop, and oversaw the lambs his sons were raising to earn money and learn responsibility.
But when Gene Metcalf looked at little boys, he would see things most other people don’t. In fact, as court proceedings would show, he was a serial child molester.
Metcalf had his first brush with the law in California in 1974, when he was convicted of sodomizing a young boy. The next year, he married Gail Coen, a mother of four children. Together they had three more children.
One night in 1978, Gail Metcalf walked into the living room and discovered her husband engaged in anal intercourse with a 13-year-old boy who was living temporarily with the Metcalf family. At the time, Metcalf was wearing his sacred temple garments-underclothing symbolic of the Christ like attributes expected of those people deemed worthy to enter the Mormon temple.
Metcalf pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with this boy and with Gail’s children. He was excommunicated from the church and sentenced to six years in prison. He was excommunicated from the church and sentenced to six years in prison. After a few years, Gail divorced him.
Her husband’s parental rights were not terminated, but Gail obtained a court order that kept him from visiting her or their children for six months after he was released from prison.
Gene Metcalf met and married his third wife even before that order expired. The third wife already had three children. The five of them moved to Mayer, where Gene Metcalf was again involved in church activities.
In late 1987, Gail Metcalf developed a brain tumor and needed extensive medical treatment. She contacted her local bishop to discuss what might happen to her younger children while she was hospitalized.
There are varying versions of what happened next.
In a civil lawsuit against the Mormon church, Gail Metcalf, claims she was ordered by her bishop and the bishop’s superior in the church hierarchy, the stake president, to send her children to live with Gene Metcalf-a pedophile who had been convicted of sexually abusing one of her other children.
“We are trained in the [Mormon] church to be submissive…….It is a patriarchal system. I was trying to abide by church leaders’ rules that they had set down and told me what to do.” She says.
“We do not tell people what to do with their children,” says Dale Shumway, a local spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name for the Mormon religion.
Ultimately, Gail Metcalf sent her children to live with their father for about eight months, beginning in August of 1988.
Even as she pondered her children’s future, their father’s propensity to molest again became known. In 1988, Gene Metcalf’s 6-year old stepson told Gene’s wife, his in-laws and his
church leader in Mayer that Gene periodically masturbated him and had forced him to masturbate Metcalf, often in the cab of his truck.
No one reported the incident to anyone outside the church.
In 1989, Gail Metcalf’s children told her that their father had been fondling them and their stepbrothers. She called the police, and Metcalf was convicted for a third time on sexual deviancy charges.
During a court hearing on Metcalf’s sentence, an array of people lobbied on his behalf. Many of them had official connections with the Mormon Church. Former Prescott city councilmember Perry Haddon was one of those people.
Another was former state senator Boyd Tenney, who described himself as a leader in the LDS church. Tenney testified that Metcalf was an asset to the community who was likely to exhibit proper behavior in the future.
The prosecutor in the case, Jim Landis, had a question for Tenney:
“What information do you have that a man who has been a child molester since 1974, notwithstanding the fact that he’s had a church that’s done everything in its power to help him, what makes you think that now he is going to miraculously be healed and not commit further felony child molestation offenses against other innocent children?”
Tenney answered, “I have seen miracles happen in that direction, and I believe that he could become one of those miracles.”
The court did not. Gene Metcalf was sentenced to 37 years in prison.
His third wife sat in the courtroom with tears running down her face, clutching a teddy bear. She had not wanted him to receive a prison term. She had testified earlier that her children needed him.
The sexual abuse of children unquestionably violates the official teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latte-day Saints. Sexual sin stands next to murder in the church’s hierarchy of wrongdoing.
In an October address at the church’s General Conference, Gordon Hinckley, first counselor to the president of the church, called child molestation “reprehensible and worthy of the most severe condemnation.”
But for all its public pronouncements, for all its written condemnation, the Mormon church continues to foster a patriarchal system that protects those who repeatedly molest children. And that system gives the victims of that sexual abuse little if any protection, assistance or comfort.”
It’s a system that has cost the church millions of dollars-perhaps tens of millions-in liability lawsuits across the nation. But the church has not made substantive changes to that system, even though there is a wealth of evidence, tucked away in police reports and court records across the country to show that child molestation is a significant problem.
And it is unclear that such changes can be made, unless Mormon officials are willing to reconsider their faith’s relation to, and place within, secular society.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a church that places great emphasis on personal propriety and the value of children—has consistently failed to protect its own sons and daughters form heinous crimes—crimes that destroy lives and shred innocence forever.
The seeds of that failure are planted deep within the doctrine and practice of the Mormon religion itself.
Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayett, New York, in 1830 after he reported having visions of God and other heavenly beings who told him to establish a restored Christian Church. Followers were driven from Ohio, Missouri and Illinois because of their practice of polygamy and allegations that they voted in a bloc.
Smith was killed by an angry mob in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844. Brigham Young then led the church on its epic march from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Utah’s Great Salt Lake Basin, which remains home to the church’s headquarters.
Modern Mormonism is not just a religion. It is a way of life. Followers subscribe to strict teachings and directives from the church on morality and clean living. Alcohol, drugs, caffeine and tobacco, and sex before marriage are all taboo.
Mormon church members are divided into local wards-similar to the congregations of parishes of other Christian religions-presided over by a bishop and one or two counselors. Bishops are lay ministers, called to serve the flock as an aside from their regular job. Wards are clustered into stakes, led by a stake president.
Followers attend church services called sacrament meetings on Sundays. Children young and old go to Sunday School and to other youth programs once or twice during the week.
Women come together in the Relief Society. Boys and men have priesthood meetings. Parents are to declare at least one night a week Family Home Evening, when they discuss the Scripture with their children.
Using children’s bodies for sexual pleasure is so unthinkable within a community professing such high moral standards that it is often met with shock, denial, confusion, and rationalization. Perhaps those reactions are attempts to make sense of the incomprehensible.
At the highest levels of the Mormon establishment the denial and rationalization come as a claim that there is relatively little child molestation among nearly nine million members of the LDS church.
“We notice that when a person does wrong and he makes the news, he’s news, because Mormons aren’t supposed to do things like that. Because they’re taught to do better,” says Don
LeFevre, spokesman for the LDS church in Salt Lake City. “In a way, it’s really kind of flattering to the church that they [the news media] chose this, because it’s a unique angle: A Mormon did this, and Mormons aren’t supposed to do things like this. If you put it in perspective, out of that many members, it doesn’t sound like the problem is rampant in the church. We would hope that it’s more rare in the church than it is in society in general because of our emphasis on the family and moral living and that sort of thing.”
It is all but impossible to know how prevalent-or rare-sexual abuse of children is in the Mormon church. There are no official statistics on sexual abuse among Mormons, or any other religious group.
But during nearly three months of investigation in more than ten American cities, New Times did not have difficulty finding Mormons who had lived through the horror of molestation.
A basic search of national news and legal data bases, combined with a selective review of court and police records, found at least 35 recent instances of molestation involving the Mormon church; nine of them occurred in the Valley.
These were cases that made it into the legal system. Child molestation is a notoriously underreported crime, and the available court records show that the LDS church has repeatedly failed to report to legal authorities sexual wrongdoing among its members.
The molestation of children is enough of a problem that Mormons and former LDS members have established support networks. Mormon leaders have been all but forced to speak out about it. But that does not mean the Mormon church has dealt effectively or openly with the problem.
“I think there are a lot of us who like to think that we live in a perfect world, and it’s really painful and difficult to realize that we don’t,” says Chris Rampton-Lowe, editor in the Reflection, a newsletter for Mormon survivors of abuse. Rampton-Lowe, a victim of sexual abuse, says many Mormons cannot grasp the notion that sexual predators might exist within a community created to share the word of God. “It’s just much easier to stay in denial about such things, “ she says.
The Doctrine and the Law
Michael Sheen is an attorney, a father and a Little League coach, the kind of guy known for devoting hours of time to work with kids. He is an upstanding member of both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the community of Santa Maria, California, a quiet coastal town just outside Santa Barbara.
At least he was considered to be upstanding until September, when he was charged with 14 counts of sexual abuse involving nine boys. Shean has pleaded innocent.
The church’s attorneys in Salt Lake City are already at work on an associated civil lawsuit. They will have a lot of history to review.
The current charges allege that Shean invited Little League kids to his home after ball games for a dip in the hot tub and a personal massage. Before that, records show, he got a court to place a convicted juvenile client in his custody for guidance. While the client was being guided, Shean allegedly obtained sexual favors from him.
And long before those incidents, Michael Shean knew two Mormon missionaries.
In 1980, a police investigation shows, Shean, then an assistant to the bishop in his ward, was excommunicated for sexual encounters with two teenagers. The two boys were trying to complete the missionary stage of their life in the Mormon church.
After a long repentance process, Shean was rebaptized into the church sometime in the mid-1980’s, with the approval of the church’s highest authorities. According to police, however, his activities with the missionaries were never reported outside the church.
Now the church is reportedly working on its settlement offer in a negligence suit that followed within weeks of Shean’s indictment in regard to the Little Leaguers-the third in a series of alleged molestations.
The Shean case is a reflection of the primary dilemma Mormon officials face when confronted with reports of child molestation in the church. Time and time again, court records show, those religious leaders have become entangled in a direct conflict between church doctrine and the law.
The church believes strongly in the miracle of forgiveness; its leaders protect those who confess their private sins in search of forgiveness.
The law, however, says child molesters are criminals and repeat offenders belong in prison, whether they repent or not. And law enforcement officials expect authority figures to report criminal acts.
In an awfully lot of sexual abuse cases Mormon doctrine has overwhelmed law. The molestation has gone on and on. And church officials have known about it.
The Mormon religion is led y lay ministers. In other words, bishops, counselors, stake presidents-everyone high up to the high authorities of the church-hold jobs outside the church. They serve the church as an aside, but it can be a time-consuming aside. They frequently devote more than 30 hours a week to their wards.
Mormons are called to service in the church by a higher-ranking LDS authority who is “impressed” by God that these particular people should become church officials. Appointment to church office is considered an honor and rarely refused. Bishops generally serve for about five years.
Within Mormon communities, members tend to take care of their own. They are taught to turn to their bishop for guidance in dealing with life’s difficult times. He administers welfare and disciplinary systems and issues referrals for social services.
It’s no surprise, then, that in the cases of sexual abuse that have made their way through the legal system, the church-a bishop or some higher authority-was nearly always notified first.
Often the bishops had little idea what they should do.
In their zealousness to lead, however, too often these lay ministers mistakenly believed that it was either their responsibility-or that it was everyone’s best interests-for all problems to be handled within the walls of the church.
The LDS church does provide literature that contains guidelines on dealing with child abuse and an array of other family problems.
In some areas, church officials meet monthly for training on various aspects of the job. Child abuse has been among the topics.
But lay ministers are ill-equipped to deal with the intense psychological needs of a sexual abuse victim. And they have no expertise in the control of serial molesters.
The justice system has experience with both offenders and victims. For a variety of cultural and doctrinal reasons, however, notification of law enforcement authorities seldom tops the list of options considered by Mormon officials faced with reports of child molestation.
And the law does not clearly state whether clergy are required to report sexual abuse among their followers.
While states have varied requirements on who must report child abuse, the overwhelming majority require clergy to tell legal authorities whenever a child is in danger.
Social workers, teachers, doctors and most others who are held to the same requirement face discipline through the agencies that license them if they don’t report. In fact, for these authority figures, failure to report child abuse is a crime.
But in the case of clergy-be it Mormon bishop or Catholic priest-the presumed confidentiality of confession muddies the waters surrounding the reporting requirements. In Arizona, for instance, the law requires clergy members to report when, by “observation and examination of any minor,” they have reason to believe that a child has been abused.
At the same time, the law allows a clergyman who has received a confidential communication or a confession to withhold it from law enforcement authorities if doing so is “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.”
Basically, the law leaves the decision of whether to report child molestation entirely in the hands of the clergyman, according to Maricopa County attorney Terry Jennings, who has prosecuted numerous child molesters.
“We see a lot of this stuff, where they have reported over the years to their minister or whomever, and it didn’t get reported [to law enforcement],“ he says.
“I can honestly say that it wasn’t a conspiracy or anyone in cahoots. It was naivete and ignorance and failure to grasp how serious and sobering these situations are and devastating to kids.”
Jennings, who is Mormon, has-at the church’s request-repeatedly spoken to LDS leaders about their legal responsibilities.
“There is a lot of hand wringing out there,” he says.
The LDS church treats confession as confidential, honoring a centuries-old tradition of repentance and soul-cleansing. But in today’s world, one might wonder whether that tradition is more important than protecting children.
“Some churches would never under any circumstances, regardless of the reporting law or whatever, they’ll never tell you,” Jennings says. “I was frustrated, because I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t every minister and priest and bishop just want to get this out in the open? Instead of protecting the perpetrator, why wouldn’t you want to protect children?’ “But not everybody in religion sees my view.“
Don LeFever, the LDS spokesman in Salt Lake City, certainly doesn’t seem to see it.
“If, when you refer the individual to counseling services or to the local authorities for help, and he refuses,” LeFevre says, “I suppose your next option is to work with that individual yourself-calling him in regularly and counsel with him and encourage him to keep the commandments and to avoid what he has confessed to having done.”
Standing Behind a Monster
About a decade ago, Richard Kenneth Ray sat in an interview at the Mesa Police Department and unleashed a secret that would shock nearly everyone except his children.
“Kenny, “ as he was more commonly known to friends and family, was a lifelong Mormon, ready to serve the church whenever he was asked. He had also been a child molester for most of his life.
Ray himself was molested at Boy Scout camp when he was 12 years old. Because of the church’s teachings against masturbation and premarital sex, he would always feel guilty about the one encounter when he was a victim. He never told anyone.
Ray went on to graduate from Mesa High School as a member of the National Honor Society, then served a two-year mission with the LDS church.
Upon his return, Ray met a woman and, after knowing her for about three months, married her.
Emotional baggage came into this marriage like an ugly wedding present. In later interviews with probation officers, police and psychologists, Ray said he used his children to satisfy his needs because of his guilt about masturbation and adultery.
His wife said she tolerated 20 unhappy years of marriage because of the church’s teachings against breaking up the family.
During those 20 years, Ray became a monster. In total, Ray confessed to sexually victimizing 33 children, three calves and a dog.
He sexually abused all three of his daughters, starting when they were as young as 6 years old. With each one, he would start out fondling her. Over time, he moved on to kissing her genitals, until, in the end, he had oral and vaginal sex with his daughters. One of his daughters would eventually sleep under her bed to get away from him.
Similar scenarios unfolded with his nieces, his daughter’s baby sitters, his daughter’s friends and his friends’ children. Ray was so out of control that he victimized a 2-year-old child whom his wife baby-sat regularly in their home. On one occasion, he manipulated his penis around the child’s mouth until she opened it so he could put his penis inside.
Another time he removed her clothing, placed his penis between her legs and rubbed it back and forth.
The girl’s mother became suspicious when her daughter began acting out sexually; 2-year-olds don’t normally seek out their father’s penis. But by that time, Ray was already on his way out of the community. Two Mormon bishops in Virginia had called stake president Alan Farnsworth in Mesa to report that Ray had molested his niece while he was on vacation.
Ray confessed to Farnsworth, who persuaded him to go to the police.
Ray had been counseled by at least two different bishops eight years earlier for another sexual incident, with another relative. In that case, however, the police weren’t notified.
In a court report, probation officer Lori Scott noted that Ray, his wife and their family had all been raised in the Mormon church, which influenced every aspect of their lives. Ray held various positions in his wards and was deeply involved in church activities.
“It is also evident that even though the defendant’s wife and the defendant himself went to their church for guidance and leadership, church leaders were ill-equipped to deal with the extent of the defendant’s psychological problem, and apparently did little to help him,” Scott told the court.
“On at lest one occasion, he came to the attention of church officials who might have intervened, but they did not. Ultimately, he was to spend 20 years or more molesting female children of various ages who happened to have the misfortune of being available to him.”
Had Ray been reported in 1976, when the church first learned of his problem, he might not have had the chance to victimize children for the next eight years.
Before Ray was sentenced, the court received a barrage of letters from LDS church members and officials, some written on church stationery, asking for leniency.
All praised Ray as a hard worker, a good provider, a man who had even helped to bring about several adoptions.
W. Dale Hall, an LDS high counselor at the time, wrote that Ray had been “a great influence for good” in the lives of hundreds of young people.
“In view of the good things he has done throughout his life. I believe firmly that the sooner he is let back into society, the better for all it will be,” Hall said in his letter to the court.
Ray was sentenced to 58 years in prison. His wife received two years’ probation for knowing at least part of his secret and not reporting it.
One of Ray’s victims sued the church for negligence, and after arguing in vain before the state Supreme Court that its bishops were protected by clergy confidentiality, the LDS church paid an undisclosed settlement.
The rallying behind Ray is not unique. The Mormon church regularly stands behind its perpetrators.
Forgiveness for the Depraved
Mormons believe in a repentance process that includes prayer, forgiveness and spiritual counseling. That process is expected to lead the wayward back to a life closer to God, to bring the lost lamb back into the flock.
The church also has its own internal system of discipline, which calls for a disciplinary council-like a church court-to be held in the case of certain sins.
Punishment might include probation, disfellowship--a loss of privileges--or excommunication, which is the loss of church membership.
In the case of incest or sexual abuse, a disciplinary council is mandatory and generally results in excommunication.
The excommunicated Mormon may attend church, but cannot hold a position in the church or participate in any other membership activities.
But excommunication is not permanent banishment. Through a repentance process, the excommunicated can be rebaptized into the church and regain the privileges of membership. “We try to encourage them to change their lives, turn their lives around and sincerely
repent what has led them to lose their membership,“ explains LeFevre, the Utah LDS spokesman. “It’s not simple, it’s not easy and it’s along road back.”
Indeed, rebaptism requires approval of the highest authorities of the church, and may take years. The Mormon focus on repentance and forgiveness, however, may add to the suffering experienced by victims of sexual abuse.
Therapists generally concur: It is paramount that victims of sexual abuse know that their abusers have done wrong. Children especially tend to conclude that they are bad if they have been involved in something bad.
That feeling is validated if the perpetrator is not punished.
“If you treat a child like damaged goods, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Fred Berlin, founder of the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and a leading expert on pedophilia. In her presentence report on Kenny Ray, probation officer Scott noted that the picture he presented to the community-a dedicated, religious, hardworking husband and father and a tireless church leader--only compounded his children’s suffering.
In court, the Mormon brethren asked that Ray be allowed to return as a productive member of society. Salt Lake City psychologist Lynn Johnson, who was treating the emotional damage done to one of Ray’s daughters, had a different opinion.
“If the father is exonerated or excused in the least degree, this will be a terrible blow to [his daughter] for the reason that she will not only be constantly fearful that he will confront and harm her, but more importantly, she will then feel a return of the inappropriate guilt. She will then feel that this awful thing has happened, and if her father is not to blame, then she must be.”
In his highly revered book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, now in its 23rd printing, the late Mormon leader Spencer Kimball teaches that to return good for evil is the sublime expression of Christian love.
“Not to be revengeful, not to seek what outraged justice might demand, to leave the offender in God’s hands-this is admirable,” he wrote.
But the Catholic Church and several other religions have painfully discovered that pedophilia cannot be prayed away. It is a chronic, lifelong personality disorder of those who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children. And there is a laundry list of other sexual dysfunctions that lead adults to molest children.
“I don’t think you can even use the word ‘cure,’” says Berlin. “...It’s a vulnerability you carry with you throughout your life. You just have to learn to control it.“
Experts estimate that more than 85 percent of sexual perpetrators will abuse again. “A child is to a pedophile as a bottle is to an alcoholic,” Berlin says.
The state of Utah is 76 per cent Mormon. It is home to ten temples, the church’s
worldwide headquarters, Zion National Bank and a host of other Mormon-owned businesses. The church doctrine is reflected in many of the states’ laws, including those dictating that
liquor must be purchased at state stores and served only at restaurants or private clubs. It is against the law in Utah for restaurants to advertise spirits.
Like many other states, Utah also has mandatory minimum prison sentences for the abusers of children. Bit there is an exception in the law there.
A judge may suspend the sentence of a convicted sexual abuser in the case of incest.
Church Versus State
Joe converted to Mormonism before he and Lisa were married. She was a devout, life long Mormon. They were married in the temple and were blessed with four children. But, as time went on, their marriage wasn’t what it might have been. Joe was wrestling with overwhelming guilt. He succumbed to regular masturbation.
When the couple was living in Provo, Utah, Joe got up in the middle of one night to comfort his crying 6-month-old daughter. He took her into the bathroom with him where he began to masturbate. When he picked her up, she started to suck on his finger, which gave him another idea. Joe had her suck on his penis until he ejaculated.
Then he wiped off her face and put her back to bed.
When she was 3 years old, he brought her into the shower with him. They were playing and kissing, until pretty soon he was kissing her vagina. She laughed. She always laughed when he tickled her. It’s hard to grasp inappropriate sexual behavior when you are 3 years old.
The process would be repeated with another daughter. On one occasion, she also watched her father climax. She asked him what he was doing. He asked her to hand him a tissue.
Lisa doesn’t remember exactly how she knew that something was awry with her husband. There was just this overwhelming sense of something wrong in her home, like the presence of a ghost. She confronted her husband, and they fought. Then he confessed.
By this time, the couple had moved to the Bay Area, near the Oakland Temple. Their bishop advised Joe to turn himself in to the police, which he did. The police notified Child Protective Services.
“I was devastated,” Lisa remembers. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
CPS caseworkers told Lisa that her husband was not allowed in her home. He was to have no contact with their children.
But her bishop gave different advice. He told her that she must forgive her husband. They must work this out and keep the family together.
Joe was in and out of counseling. He wanted to move back home with his family. She was confused. Lisa wanted her children to have a father, but she feared Joe.
“He [the bishop] told me if I didn’t forgive [Joe], I was more at fault,” she says. “He didn’t have ears to hear or eyes to see.”
Lisa didn’t allow the children to testify against Joe. He was never charged with the abuse of his children.
“The bishop told me not to,” she says. “That is the only reason I didn’t press charges. I feared I wasn’t doing the right thing. I was just really naïve.”
During the next year, Joe would intermittently stay at the house with Lisa and their children. Counseling was an on-and-off thing for both of them. CPS caseworkers made home visits and repeatedly warned Lisa about Joe being in the home.
But Lisa was more worried about his behavior outside the home.
“He took an ax to my car and was axing the door when the police came,“ she remembers. “He strangled me. He raped me. He was out of control.”
Other times, he would come to church and sit next to her and talk to his children. Finally, she took the children and moved back to Utah.
CPS reports show that, had they stayed, the state would have taken the children out of
For years, she says, she used the threat of pressing charges to keep Joe away from their
children. Now, though, the statute of limitations on Joe’s sexual abuse crimes has expired.
Last year, he field suit seeking visitation rights with the children. The court ruled that he
had that right, so long as he was not alone with them.
The Effects of Repression
The LDS church views family as the most important arena in life. Marriage is central to the religion; those men and women married in the temple are considered joined for eternity.
The Mormon faith is a patriarchal society, where young men enter the priesthood at age 12. Through a church education process and regular interviews to determine worthiness, they go on to serve missions for the church. At 18, they become elders and climb the ranks from there.
Mormons believe that priesthood holders receive inspiration from God, which they then translate in the form of blessings bestowed upon others—primarily wives and children.
As priesthood holders, men are the heads of their households. They are responsible for providing economically and spiritually for their wives and children. Women are obliged to create spiritual households, and support their husbands, as partners in the marriage.
Children are, basically, required. Mormons take seriously the divine commandment to multiply and replenish the Earth.
Keeping the family together is imperative to this view of faith and life. When parents use children to satisfy their sexual appetites, it not only challenges common decency but the whole notion of LDS doctrinal order.
” The protection of children is more important than family togetherness,” says Dale Shumway, local spokesman for the church. “There comes times when you’ve got to solve problems and you can’t solve them with everyone together.”
In real life, however, it often doesn’t play out that way. Gene Metcalf’s third wife clung to her husband, even though she knew he was abusing their own sons. She believed he would overcome his problems because, as she told authorities repeatedly, the children needed their father.
Lisa nearly lost her children over the same belief.
Kenny Ray’s wife was sentenced to two years probation for standing by her pedophiliac man.
In court case after Mormon court case, the piles of letters and testimony on behalf of convicted abusers have a common theme: If you put him away his family will suffer. There is little mention of the children who might suffer if he remains free.
There are few things the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deplores more than sex outside of marriage.
Only the morally clean may enter the temple, and members must be interviewed by their bishop or higher leader to determine their worthiness.
Fornication, adultery, and homosexuality are cause for probation or excommunication from the church.
The church also views masturbation in extremely negative terms, even though the medical and psychological communities regard the practice as a normal part of sexuality.
Mormon leaders have devoted pages to the sin of masturbation--and overcoming it--saying that it is not only wrong, but may lead to other sinful conduct. Young men who engage in the practice are not worthy to serve on a mission.
Petting and fondling by unmarried couples are sinful in the eyes of the church because they stimulate sexual impulses.
Mormons are taught to avoid anything pornographic in literature, movies, television and conversation. They must dress modestly, use dignified language in speaking of bodily functions and cultivate virtuous thoughts. The church opposes sex education in schools.
There is suspicion within the medical community that sexual repression, such as that practiced by the Mormon church, is a bomb waiting to explode. So far, the research is inconclusive, but the experts feel certain there is a connection.
“Generally, individuals who are more repressed are likely to act out inappropriately,“ says Dr. Gene Abel, a leading expert on sex offenders and the director of the Behavioral Institute of Atlanta, Georgia.
“There is some evidence that overzealous suppression of normal sexual urges, like masturbation...could increase the risk of pedophilia,” says Berlin, the Johns Hopkins expert.
In a court-ordered evaluation, psychologist Richard Lanyon said Kenny Ray agreed that extramarital affairs would have been a better choice of sexual expression than molesting his own children. But Ray believed an affair to be as great a sin as molestation in the eyes of the church.
Richard Peterson was preparing to go on his church mission when he was arrested in Mesa for fondling a 5-year-old neighbor. He was 19 years old and had spent the previous year in counseling with Steven Smith, his bishop.
A court evaluation described what happened this way:
“Because [Peterson] was feeling extremely guilty over his sexuality and yet at the same time had repressed it so much that his thoughts were becoming obsessive, he says that he watched an erotic movie which affected him a great deal. Frustrated and curious, chastised by his bishop and church because of (an) indiscretion with his girlfriend, forbidden to masturbate, he unfortunately, turned to an innocent 5-year-old girl.
Scouting for Opportunity
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a great supporter of children. It also provides great opportunity for pedophiles. Mormons have a lot of kids. The Mormon church has a lot of programs for kids.
While those programs are admirable, there are few safeguards to protect the children who use them.
In any given LDS ward, there can be as many as 200 adults serving in official positions. Most of those adults touch children’s lives in some way: as a Sunday School teacher, a youth leader, a scoutmaster, a home teacher or as one of any number of program assistants.
And in the trusting world of the Mormon church, there are no background checks, no references, no look into what might be the dark past.
“In any kind of religion that separates itself from mainstream society, there is the potential for abuse because the checks and balances that might otherwise be there are not there,” says one FBI agent.
The Mormon church sponsors more Boy Scout troops than nay organization in America. Scouting is nearly mandatory for young boys in the church.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has had its share of problems with molestation over the years. But it is the sponsoring organization–in this case, the LDS church-that chooses scout leaders and their assistants.
The BSA requires that scoutmasters complete a registration form and it keeps a file on scouting officials convicted of sexual crimes.
But none of the local counselors or assistants who may lend a hand with a scout troop is registered or tracked.
In the Mormon church, those aides are selected in much the same manner as the hundreds of others who hold some position of church service. The bishop, after prayerful meditation, simply issues a calling to some worthy individual.
“The bishops and other leaders who call people to positions of responsibility are well enough acquainted with them that they feel comfortable about the call,” says LDS spokesman Don LeFever.
“Sometimes you win some. Sometimes you might lose some. If an individual is not up-front about his or her past, it’s a matter of the honor system.”
Law enforcement officers say such an attitude is naïve. And dangerous.
“Anywhere there is an organization with children, it’s very appealing to people with a [sexual abuse] problem,” says an FBI source, whom the agency will not allow to be named. “If you want to have sex with lots of kids, go where you have access to them. “
The church two years ago paid an undisclosed sum to settle a civil suit filed in Norfolk, Virginia but the families of three children who were sexually assaulted by Eric “Ricky” Avant, a church member who was their Cub Scout leader.
Avant was sentenced to 26 years in prison for molesting eight boys, but parents had compiled a list of more than 30 others he had accosted.
Avant had been convicted of sodomizing an 11-year-old boy in 1979, but church members didn’t check his background, nor did they register him with the Boy Scouts of America, according to the suit.
There are many other sexual predators associated with scouting and the Mormon church.
Richard Dilley was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1990 after he raped at least one of the scouts in his troop in Seattle, Washington. He had been court-martialed by the Navy for similar charges in 1983. In between, he had been a coach and an LDS home teacher.
Although not a scoutmaster, Gene Metcalf was active in scouts during the interval between his three convictions for sexual abuse.
Kenny Ray was first introduced to sex on a scout trip. So was Michael Shean.
Who Can You Trust?
At 13 years old, Tammy and Melody were the kind of best friends who could fight and make up within an hour. They went to school together, and so did their brothers and sisters. They shared parties to celebrate their birthdays, which are two days apart.
So it followed that Melody would go to church occasionally with Tammy’s family. And, of course, she went with Tammy to the youth activities associated with church.
Tammy and her family belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Melody’s mother had let her children find their own way into religion. She was, frankly, pleased
that the girls were involved with a church youth group of any kind, given the alternatives for teenagers in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
And in August 1992, she didn’t worry when her daughter went on a Mormon youth group’s three day campout at a park near Chino, California.
“[Tammy’s mother] is a neurotic when it comes to safety,” Melody’s mother says. “I knew she would thoroughly check everything out.”
But Tammy’s mother didn’t know about Christian Bearnson. Melody had met Bearnson a couple of times around the church. He was nice, kind of funny, just a guy.
She knew a girl who had a crush on him, and another one who had a bigger crush on him. Bearnson was 28 years old, married with three little kids already. He was an elder in the church.
The girls and the handful of church women who led them wrestled with tens and set up camp. They were singing songs around the campfire when Bearnson showed up after work in his van.
“He was supposed to be there just to keep watch at night,“ Melody says through a mouthful of braces.
During the following days, the girls went hiking, took turns on the paddle boats, studied the Bible and made the requisite crafts that only mothers love and keep forever. At night, they sang songs, performed skits and ran around the camp scaring each other with flashlights.
Tammy and Melody and another girl shared and alternately kicked one another out of a tent. Bearnson slept in his van.
On the last night of the trip, Bearnson invited four of the girls, including Tammy, into his van for a private party, offering to give them massages.
Before the evening was over, he had sexually molested Tammy. Before the camping trip was over, he had grabbed and fondled Melody’s breasts and rubbed his genitals against her. A third girl later confided that she had previously had a sexual experience with Bearnson, too.
Eventually, Bearnson was charged and struck a plea bargain. He pleaded guilty to one count of committing lewd acts with a child and was placed on five years’ probation.
In a deposition, Tammy’s mother said the Bishop Bradley Cutler called her on August 6, 1992, and asked her to bring Tammy to see him. The bishop said he was trying to get acquainted with all the youngsters in the church.
After talking to Cutler, Tammy broke down in tease and told her mother what Bearnson had done.
Tammy’s mother was furious with Cutler. She says she yelled at the bishop for not telling her sooner that her daughter had been molested. The mother was also furious with Cutler’s
response: He said he had wanted to talk to Tammy first. He also said he told Tammy it was up to her to tell her parents.
In his deposition and court testimony, cutler claimed that he first heard allegations about Bearnson’s conduct several weeks after the campout.
That claim is highly questionable.
Tammy’s and Melody’s mothers filed a civil suit against Bearnson and the Mormon church. That’s when they met a third mother.
Her daughter testified that she and another girl had been molested by Bearnson in 1990, two years before Tammy and Melody. She said the molestation also occurred at a youth campout at the park near Chino.
The two girls said they went to Bishop Robert Wise, who served the ward prior to Cutler, after the 1990 incidents. They said they told him what happened. When Bearnson continued to proposition her after the camping trip, she went back to Wise.
But she said, the bishop didn’t believe her. According to the girl’s testimony, Wise said, “Chris Bearnson is part of the priesthood and ....nothing like that happens in our church.” The bishop suggested that she had made up the story to get attention.
Wsie denied ever talking to the girl about the incident. Both he and Cutler denied they knew of allegations against Bearnson before the 1992 campout.
A letter naming church officials and referring to the first incident, however, suggested otherwise. A jury slapped the LDS church with actual and punitive damages before the church settled with Tammy. The settlement reportedly involved the payment of millions of dollars. Court records on the case have been sealed, at the church’s request.
Church members rallied around Bearnson. One chaperone even said that she would still be comfortable with Bearnson as a chaperone for her own daughters.
Tammy’s family moved and changed their telephone number to get away from the barrage of angry calls from church members. Tammy and Melody don’t see each other that often anymore.
Melody’s mother, who also settled with the church, is likely to be angry for a long time.
“It hurt me to think that he had his hands on her (Melody),” she says. “The church knew he had molested those girls before. I’m angry that they let him be there with the girls. If you can’t trust the church, who can you trust?”
The Bishop’s Relationship
Ellen had been molested twice by the time she was 14 years old. Confused and distraught, she and her family turned to bishops Arlo Atkin and James Stapley, who also is a
Mesa city councilmember. Atkin took her into his home in Mesa. She would live with his family, and he would help shepherd her through the court proceedings that followed.
Two months later, Atkin began a sexual relationship with Ellen, following which she attempted suicide.
But the relationship continued.
Within months, Ellen was pregnant with Atkin’s child. Scared, alone and confused about her own feelings toward the bishop, Ellen concocted a story about how she had been raped while on a date. She was sent to live in a state foster home.
But the relationship continued.
It didn’t take long, however, for Ellen’s foster mother to figure out what was going on. She called police after intercepting letters to Ellen written by Atkin. The letters provided sexually explicit testament to the bishop’s affections.
Atkin pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor and was excommunicated by the church. He served 132 days in jail and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Still the relationship continued.
Ellen gave birth to their child, who was adopted.
Less than a year later, Atkin was charged with violating his probation by calling and
visiting Ellen, even though he had moved to California.
In April, Atkin was released from probation.
Ellen continues to suffer excruciating mental anguish. She had been lured into a sexual
relationship by the one person, other than her own parents, whom she had been taught to trust most in the world. She continues to deal with the scars of having fallen in love with an older, married man-a man who knew better, and who haunted her with his affections. And she lives with the pain of having given up her firstborn child.
Meanwhile, LDS attorneys are defending the church and Stapley in a civil suit Ellen filed against them and Atkin earlier this year.
Victims and psychologists say the pain of sexual abuse becomes even more severe when the person is someone in a position of trust.
“When it is someone in the church, it’s more of an abuse of trust, so it has a higher impact,” says Berlin, the Johns Hopkins expert.
In a community in which males hold priesthood status from the time they are 12 years old, nearly every male is in a position of trust.
Blaming the Victim
Protecting the good name of the church is a paramount value in the Mormon culture. Baptized members are obligated to support the church and further its ends. To defy that obligation is to commit the sin of apostasy.
Harassment is not what most people consider Christian behavior. In the Mormon church however, child molestation often brings a barrage of abuse not on the molester, but on his young victims. Church members said Ellen was promiscuous. Tammy’s parents moved twice and still use an unlisted phone number.
So does the family of Richard Peterson’s victim.
According to one former Mesa police officer, it’s not unusual for Mormon sex-crime victims to have to move out of their neighborhoods to find peace, even when it means making payments on two or three different houses.
That’s what happened to the families victimized by Larry Judd.
Judd always seemed to be involved in scouts and girls’ youth groups associated with an LDS church in Mesa. His involvement seemed natural; he was a teacher by profession.
Of course, that involvement made a different kind of sense when he admitted to molesting 12 girls over a period of about 20 years.
At girls’ camps, where he was a chaperone, Judd would make excuses to go into the girls’ cabins at night or to be alone with one, even for a moment.
It only took a moment to slip a hand underneath a bathing suit and fondle a young girl’s genitals. Sometimes, he would rub his hands over their clothes. Once, he attacked a 16-year-old in the church scout room.
But Judd’s arrest didn’t bring peace to his victims.
In what one church member described as “a letter writing campaign,” the court considering his case received 45 letters of Judd’s behalf. Meanwhile, the family of one of his victims had to move from its home because of the turmoil in the neighborhood shared with Judd.
Another mother told police, “It’s very difficult because he [Judd] comes from, you know, a strong family, good people and, you know, people just kind of keep insinuating to me, don’t, don’t rock the boat here, he’s a good man, you know.”
The McAllister family rocked the boat. The result was excommunication.
When Merradyth McAllister’s son returned to their home in Oklahoma City from a two year mission, he wanted to lift a burden he’d been carrying for years.
Scott McAllister says that Ron Phelps, his bishop, started kissing and fondling him when he was 15 years old, and continued periodically until Scott left on his mission two years later.
Jack McAllister, Scott’s father, has good reason to believe him. The elder McAllister says he was molested as a teenager by his bishop; he carried the secret for 30 years.
“I knew if Scott didn’t get closure on this thing fairly early, it would mess him up in the rest of his life,” Jack McAllister says.
Merradyth McAllister believes her son, too. And when church officials dismissed his claims, she took them public, speaking to the press and just about anyone else who would listen.
Phelps has maintained his innocence while police investigate the case.
Three months after Scott’s complaint, Phelps was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer in the men’s bathroom at the University of Oklahoma. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was excommunicated from the church.
But Merradyth McAllister continued to press church officials to investigate the abuse allegations. Earlier this year, she was excommunicated for apostasy.
In a June letter to the McAllisters, LDS elder W. Mack Lawrence wrote. “Having endured the pain of the offenses you alleged, we would hope that you would refrain from publishing unsubstantiated claims of wrongdoing that may cause similar anguish to other individuals and families.”
The matter, he said, had been handled.
Positioning the Church
In 1991, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a pamphlet on preventing and responding to child abuse, including sexual abuse. The pamphlet was sent to bishops and the congregation at large.
Mormon authors, including Maxine Murdock, a retired Brigham Young University professor, and Ann Horton, who is currently on the BYU faculty, have published articles and edited books on surviving and preventing abuse.
But some church members say it’s going to take a lot more than books and pamphlets to overcome years of institutional denial.
As recently as 1992, in another General Conference address on mental, physical or sexual abuse, elder Richard Scott cautioned members against participating in “penetrating dialogue in group discussion.”
“The repair of damage inflicted by abuse should be done privately, confidentially, with a trusted priesthood leader and, where needed, the qualified professional he recommends.”
Scott, whose speech reportedly caused much uproar in the church, also said:
“The victim must do all in his or her power to stop the abuse. Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear, or the power or authority of the offender.”
“At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse, Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that if needed it can be addressed.”
For decades, the Mormon church, like other conservative Christian churches, has preached vehemently against fornication, adultery, masturbation and homosexuality, while incest and child molestation didn’t make it onto the lecture circuit.
Chris Rampton-Lowe, whose publication carries the stories of Mormon abuse victims, says the church is getting better at dealing with the issue.
“They used to be afraid of the issue or so uncomfortable with the issue that they just wouldn’t deal with it,“ she says. “The progress is slow, but it is happening. They are recognizing the problem exists.”
Dale Shumway, the LDS spokesman in Mesa, agrees.
As he looks across the room at a photo on the wall of his 22 grandchildren, there is no
question about his sincerity. He knows how precious those children are.
There is also no question about the church’s official position on the sexual abuse of
That position is self-contradictory, uncertain.
And the church’s stance is still full of concern for people who have molested children. “These things are tough for the church, because the protection of the child is so
absolutely important, Shumway says. “At the same time, we need to encourage the sinner to come forward and repent. If you destroy that, what do you do?
“There’s no room in the world for any of this. But again, when you measure it against the number of people and wards, it’s a few instances.”
The Horror of an Instance
Michelle Scott began life somewhere in Ohio. At 4 years old, she and her three younger siblings were adopted by Steven Hammock and his wife in Mesa. Scott still doesn’t know why.
Twenty-three years later, Scott is the mother of two young daughters. She is still haunted by the demons of her past. But the situation is getting better.
Both articulate and attractive, Scott has brown hair that falls softly around her face in defiance of the style in which it was cut. She looks her age but no more, which is remarkable given her history.
The eyes, though. The eyes tell everything. They are the icy sharp eyes of a woman who has lived through something that either kills or strengthens.
Growing up, Scott and her family moved frequently, eventually ending up in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. Regardless of the address, her life remained a private hell.
Her adoptive parents, the Hammocks, were, by all outward appearances, upstanding members of the Mormon community. Steven Hammock assisted with the Boy Scouts; his wife led the Relief Society (an LDS women’s group). They taught Sunday School, chaperoned youth trips
and gave endlessly in service to the church. In turn, they were admired for adopting four children from parents who obviously couldn’t care for them.
It was a pretty picture, seen from the outside.
As a little girl, Michelle would sit on her father’s lap underneath a blanket and watch television. That was so his fingers could explore her vagina.
“Until I was 12 or 13, I thought it was right, and it felt good, because I thought that that’s what I was supposed to be doing, and I was doing it. And as you get older, you start to realize that this is bad, and you think that you’re bad because it’s happening to you,” Scott says.
“My dad was telling me that he kissed me because he loved me.”
He bathed her until she was 13 years old. She was not allowed to lock the door to the bathroom.
“I just hated that so much. I would get in the tub and bather so fast, I was dressed by the time he came in, because I knew what he was going to do.“
Steven Hammock was a strict disciplinarian who started his children’s days at 5 a.m., having them read from the Book of Mormon. When their grades were bad, his children would copy pages from the encyclopedia long into the night. For more severe infractions, Scott says, the children were required to do military pushups until their arms could no longer hold them up.
As the Hammock children got older, their behavioral problems increased, and so did their father’s discipline. Michelle ran away from home repeatedly, made poor grades, lied to her parents and her teachers.
“It was survival,” Scott says.
It was also a clear sign-a billboard, in fact-of child abuse.
As Michelle Scott grew into adolescence, her father would ask her to walk on his back
after he got out of the shower. That’s how it would start, anyway. It ended with his passionate kisses, ignoring the tears streaming down his daughter’s cheeks.
In the bedroom where Scott shared bunk beds with her sister, Hammock would often assign one of the two of them to the bottom bunk at bedtime. And as they lay there waiting--hoping each time that it wouldn’t happen—they knew their father would come back later in his bathrobe and climb into that bottom bunk. He always did.
But worse than that, Scott dreaded the times when church meetings and business trips took her mother out of town. On those nights, she had to sleep with her father.
“I hated it more than anything,” Scott says. “I remember sneaking off the bed in the middle of the night—I swear I never breathed the whole time—slowly inching down until my feet touched the floor.”
And in the bed with the worn spread that had those little raised up circles-like flowers-on it, Hammock fondled her breasts and her genitals and made her fondle his penis until he drifted off to sleep.
“There’s nothing worse than after he would get done-I would call it get done-sexually, and just lay there next to me,” Scott says.
For Scott, survival meant choosing the lesser of two evils.
“I learned to be bad,“ Scott says, “because if I was bad I would get beat. But if he liked me, I would be sexually abused.”
In a lawsuit she later filed, Scott said Hammock whipped her with a leather belt, beat her with his fists and kicked her.
Despite regular police visits to the Hammock home, no one seemed to notice anything unusual. Not the neighbors, not their fellow church members and not the Mormon bishop, who counseled Scott frequently at the request of her parents.
On one occasion, Hammock was discovered in a sexual situation with his daughter. He reported that she had become promiscuous, and she was punished.
Scott says the bishop told her to be more respectful of her parents, to mind her father and to help make their home a more spiritual place.
“We were problem children,” Scott says. “People would say we just wanted attention.”
At age 15, Scott ran away from home, the last in a series of such flights. After being tracked down, she became a ward of the state and moved into two foster homes. Eventually, she was adopted by another family.
Running away, for Scott, was a final, desperate act.
“I thought, ‘This is it.’ I was old enough to know better. I was not going to let this happen again,” Scott says. “It got so bad one night that I took a razor, and I was literally going to take my own life.”
Instead, with the help of a social worker and the foster parents who had taken in her sister, she turned to the legal system, filed a complaint and became a ward of the state.
“The bishop and all the church leaders showed up in court to speak on the Hammocks’ behalf. They told the attorneys I was lying. It was impossible for me to sit down and tell the story of what happened. I was so humiliated.
“Everyone in the church was saying, ‘How can they be bad people? We know them. We know they have the gospel in their home.”
Steven Hammock pleaded guilty to two counts of forcible sex abuse and served six months in an inpatient treatment facility. The church excommunicated him but refused to divulge information that Hammock had previously revealed to church officials.
Scott filed a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit in 1989 against Hammock for infliction of emotional distress. The suit lingered in the court system until two months ago. Most of that time was spent before the Utah State Supreme Court, in arguments on whether LDS church officials had to divulge information Hammock had shared with them. The court ruled they did not.
Hammock’s attorney quit in 1991 after his client refused to answer questions about the case.
Hammock refused to defend himself, and in October, a federal judge awarded damages to Scott in an amount still to be determined.
“I wanted to win in court,” Scott says. “I wanted to let people know it was a true story.
“I want him to know that he destroyed lives. My life will never be what it might have been.”
Scott has spent years in therapy, trying to put the past to rest. After she married in the Mormon church, she couldn’t stand to let her husband touch her. The past she says, ruined her marriage. And she still trusts few people, and men least of all.
“When is everyone going to realize that this shit’s got to stop? Scott asks. “There are children out there being abused every day.”
Note: This important article by Lisa Davis was removed from the web by New Times for reasons that are unclear. All her other articles are still online. Repeated requests by CPP and Lisa Davis asking them to put it back on line were ignored. It has been hand typed in and consequently the photos that go with the article are not included."
Other sources excerpts
- Sins of the Temple - Phoenix New Times - 1994-12-22 to 1994-12-28 - -
Other sources excerpts
- Sins of the Temple - Phoenix New Times - 1994-12-22 to 1994-12-28
Source familiar with the case
Mormon sex abuse database
Mormon sex crimes map
Places where accused LDS church members lived, committed sex crimes, were arrested, or served prison time.
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