My bishop touched me inappropriately during a private, closed-door, one-one-one interview in his office at a church stake center in Provo, Utah while I was a teenager.
He got a pass on his behavior and went on to ruin the lives of others. To this day he has not been held fully accountable.
My bishop was a respected planned giving attorney at LDS Foundation, the fundraising arm of Brigham Young University and the LDS Church (since renamed LDS Philanthropies).
During the interview, he asked me probing questions about sexual chastity and whether I was gay. He used these questions as a pretext to have me come closer to his chair, where he ran his fingers over my body explaining where it would and would not be appropriate to touch a girl.
I was very naive about sex at that age. My parents had never talked to me about sex and had provided me very little physical affection growing up. Hugs and kisses were a rarity and I didn’t fully understand human reproduction.
As the interview continued, it initially felt validating to be physically embraced by the bishop. But then I felt confused and vulnerable. As he started to outline “appropriate” and “inappropriate” “zones” on my body with his hands, I was paralyzed with fear. I didn’t know what to do. He was in a position of power and authority over me as my bishop there in that office. The Lord spoke to him. He had the power of discernment. Who was I to question this unusual teaching methodology?
A that very moment, I was blind, so complete was my obedience and so entrenched was my deference to ecclesiastical authority, both characteristics that were cultivated and reinforced through church doctrine and culture from a very young age.
When our stake president abruptly released my bishop a short time later (after another incident involving my bishop in 2000/2001 was brought to his attention by the Provo police department – but never prosecuted), the stake president told our congregation over the pulpit that it wasn’t our place to talk about the reasons for the bishop’s release or discuss it with anyone. He sternly warned, “Don’t speculate! Don’t talk about it amongst yourselves. Don’t go there!”
I later learned that the stake president’s warning was consistent with Handbook 1 of the Church Handbook of Instructions, a manual not available to church members but used by church leaders in administering church policy.
This instruction needs to be amended because it gets in the way of victims coming forward and receiving the help they need and because it has been used by stake presidents and bishops to justify misguided prohibitions on discussing abusive behavior all in the name of protecting the church.
Abuse can happen in the bishop’s office. It happened to me in the bishop’s office during an interview. So long as the church encourages private, closed-door, one-one-one meetings which involve discussions of sexual matters with minors, there will be huge risks.
It’s a terrible thing to experience abuse at the hands of a neighbor or a relative.
Experiencing abuse under the official sanction of a church youth interview adds a completely different dimension.
Thank you for reading my story. There is much larger story I have yet to share. But for now, this will do.