was an LDS bishop and attorney in Oklahoma; arrested for indecent exposure before becoming an LDS bishop; accused of child sexual abuse; Mormon church leaders allegedly covered up the abuse

Ronald Phelps Case Summary

FLOODLIT is working on this case report.

The McCallisters did a background check on Phelps and found that he had been arrested
for indecent exposure prior to being called as bishop in 1980. He had also been charged
with sexual abuse but not prosecuted; this charge was known to the stake leadership when
Phelps was called to serve as bishop. On March 8, 1994, Phelps was again arrested in a
men’s rest room at Oklahoma University for investigation of public indecency and soliciting
to commit an act of lewdness. The stake president then informed the McCallisters that the
arrest had nothing to do with sexual abuse allegations. Phelps continued to serve in church
positions.

The McCallisters continued to warn others that Phelps was a predator. They wrote to
President Gordon B. Hinckley (a First Presidency counselor at that time), detailing these
events and asking him to intervene. They heard nothing. When they went to the local media
with the problem they were punished by their church leaders. In August 1994, Merradyth
was excommunicated from the LDS Church for “conduct unbecoming a member of the
Church” and for “actions which have not only affected the good name of the Church but also
the good names, lives and testimonies of the members.”

Jack resigned his Church membership in protest. Mary Plourde, a family friend who worked
on this case with the McCallisters was also excommunicated that same month, for the same
reasons. Plourde and Merradyth reported they were refused copies of their
excommunication notices, after being allowed to briefly see them and hear them read aloud
by the bishop. They said the documents were signed by Gordon B. Hinckley. They have
since taken their crusade to Oklahoma City detectives and prosecutors.”

A letter from the McCallisters to President Hinckley

“In June of 1963, my husband Jack,
had been sexually molested by his bishop (Samuel H. Gardener) [a bishop of the Oklahoma
First Ward who died in 1967] for two years between 15-17. He was afraid to tell me because
I wouldn’t love or respect him. After we had been married about four months, he told me
what had happened and how ashamed he felt… I believed him.

“In June of 1993, our son, Scott, was 23 years old and recently returned from an honorable
mission. He told my husband about being sexually molested between the age of 15-17 by
his bishop (Ronald W. Phelps). Scott was ashamed to talk about it prior because he feared
the negative reaction of others… I believed him.

“In September of 1993, the three of us talked to our Stake President, Gary James
NEWMAN. Scott both told and graphically demonstrated the sexual abuse he suffered…

The details and manner of the molestation were discounted and minimized by Pres.
NEWMAN. He told us he couldn’t believe such a thing was true…. we also wrote you a letter
explaining the details of the situation and asking for direct intervention and investigation into
the matter from Church Headquarters. We heard nothing… only silence. Our pain increased.
We talked with other member parents to see if they were aware of anything that had
happened to their family members. We formed an emotional support group for survivors of
sexual abuse…. We felt only contempt for us by Pres. NEWMAN. He threatened us to
‘either stop talking to the Church members about this or I’ll draw up the papers to have you
excommunicated for failure to sustain your leaders and apostasy.’ He told us… they couldn’t
accept Scott’s word over a priesthood leader held in high esteem…

“Because Pres. NEWMAN was not willing to hear our cries for help and told us to ‘do what
you have to do… but stop talking to the members of the Church about this or I’ll
excommunicate you,’ we went to the police and filed felony charges against Ron Phelps…
The police informed us until there was more evidence developed, it would be difficult to
prosecute the case. They believed Scott and recognized the deception used by typical
pedophiles with multiple victims….

“A criminal background check revealed Ron Phelps had been arrested for indecent
exposure prior to being called as Bishop in 1980 [the charges were later dropped]. He was
recently arrested in an Oklahoma University rest-room in Norman Oklahoma on December
3, 1993. He did ‘unlawfully, willfully and wrongfully solicit, induce and entice one John
Bishop, an undercover police officer, to commit an act of lewdness contrary to the form of
the Statutes in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the
State of Oklahoma.’ (Copy enclosed) We thought it was important to notify others with this
public information to protect their children…” (Letter dated March 23, 1994) Neither
President Hinckley nor other church leaders in Salt Lake City were anxious to go to [b]at for
the McCallisters.”

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