During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ was asked by His disciples who He considered to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He responded by inviting a child to come to Him, and said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven... Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.”
The Savior then warned His disciples: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (see Matthew 18:1-6)
These are powerful words from the Savior, who is also known as the Prince of Peace. As followers of Jesus Christ, we condemn, in the strongest terms, offending (harming) or abusing children. Child abuse is despicable and heinous. It is not just a social malady and a criminal act; it is absolutely forbidden by the commandments of God. Protecting and nurturing children was a priority for Jesus Christ in His life (see Matthew 18:1-6; 3 Nephi 17:11-23), and it is a priority in His Church today. No child should have to endure abuse. Even one case is one too many.
Our First Priority: Help the Victim, Stop Abuse
Child abuse is a matter the Church takes very, very seriously. When we learn of abuse, our first priority is to help the victim and stop the abuse. As society and the Church have increased in their awareness of this malady perpetuated by people in and out of the Church, the Church has made extensive efforts in the past several decades to build understanding among local Church leaders and provide resources to stop and prevent abuse, and to keep children safe. We are continually looking for ways to strengthen our proactive program to combat abuse and care for those whose lives have been harmed by this evil practice. As we see or learn of ways to more effectively decrease the potential for abuse, we implement them.
Victims Are Innocent
The Church’s constant efforts to prevent and stop child abuse reflect the Savior’s teachings to “help the one” (see Luke 15:4). A victim of child abuse is a real, living, child of a loving Heavenly Father. Every victim is a little boy or little girl who is suffering deeply. We must do everything we can to protect and love them. We urge our local leaders and members to reach out to victims, comfort and strengthen them, and help them understand that what happened was wrong, the experience was not their fault, and that it should never happen ever again.
Children Are a Gift from God
We believe the family is ordained of God, and that children are a gift from our Heavenly Father. Because of our religious beliefs, and because child abuse is always wrong, protection of children and family comes first in the Church. Every child should know they are safe to come forward and speak with adults if abuse has occurred. A large network of Church leaders and clinical and legal professionals are ready and willing to reach out with love to help those struggling with the effects of abuse.
When child abuse occurs, we deal with it immediately and directly. The Church has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abuse. This means that if we learn of abuse, we take immediate steps to protect the victim and help them with healing. We cooperate with law enforcement to report and investigate abuse. Members found guilty of child abuse are also subject to the laws of God. When someone is convicted of child abuse they face formal discipline from the Church and risk losing their membership in the Church. Even if the individual has not been convicted in a court of law, they may be subject to Church discipline and could lose their membership.
A Societal Plague
Child abuse is a societal plague that we have learned more about in the last several decades. When the Church has faced claims of child abuse at the courthouse, the great majority of these claims occurred decades ago, when society and the Church understood far less about abuse. The Church has always been concerned for the welfare of children: and as awareness of the scourge of child abuse has grown in society, the Church has been at the forefront of efforts to combat it.
The Church’s Comprehensive Efforts to Prevent Abuse and Protect Children
Because the membership of the Church consists of people who are imperfect (most of whom are trying to improve), there is no perfect or flawless system; but the Church works tirelessly to prevent abuse and protect children, and constantly strives to improve in these areas. We are unaware of any organization that does more than the Church to stop and prevent abuse.
Congregations can provide great protection:
- Our members attend church where they live, and members usually know each other and each other’s children. There is no professional clergy at the local Church level—all leaders are volunteer, trusted lay leaders who serve for about five years and typically have lived in the community for an extended period of time.
- Local leaders of adults and youth are neighbors, parents, and friends. They teach each other and each other’s children. No one would knowingly put his or her own children or neighbor’s children in a situation where they would be susceptible to abuse.
Facilities and programs designed to protect against abuse:
- Church programs and facilities are designed to protect against abuse. Since 2006, all classrooms in new chapels and meetinghouses have windows so parents and others can help watch over our children and keep them safe. The Church is in the process of retrofitting older buildings with windows in classroom doors.
- For any youth activity, we have a firm requirement that at least two adult leaders are present.
- For younger children, when men are assigned to teach children, at least two responsible adults should be present at all times.
Process for calling leaders:
- The Church goes to great lengths to screen volunteers who work with children and youth.
- When an individual is identified as a candidate to be called to work with children or youth, the bishop receives a recommendation from other adult leaders, interviews the individual and reviews their Church membership record. If there is any indication of previous abuse, that person is disqualified from serving in any capacity with children or youth. Before serving, the individual is presented to the entire congregation for a sustaining vote. Bishops are asked to interview youth leaders at least twice each year.
Membership record annotations:
- Every member of the Church has a membership record, which includes important information like baptism date, marriage, children, and so forth.
- The Church places an annotation on the membership record of any member who has previously abused children. This record follows them to any congregation where they move, anywhere in the world.
- When a bishop sees the annotation, he calls the Church and is given clear direction that an individual who has abused children should not be given a position with children.
Professional help line:
- The Church recognizes its lay leaders are not clinical or legal professionals. In order to arm these leaders with the best information available, and to ensure compliance with child abuse reporting laws, the Church has created a 24-hour help line.
- If a bishop suspects or learns of abuse, he is instructed to call a help line number that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He will be put in touch with a professional counselor to help the victim, stop the abuse, and prevent abuse of others. In that phone call the bishop may also speak with a lawyer to make certain that all legal reporting requirements are observed.
- The Church offers and often covers the cost of professional counseling for victims, regardless of their ability to pay.
- The Church believes that children can, with help, overcome the effects of abuse and live productive and Christlike lives. Through the grace of God available because of the Savior’s Atoning sacrifice on our behalf, and often through the assistance of professional counseling, victims of abuse can overcome. The Church does all it can to get victims on the path of healing and hope.
The Church seeks continually to improve its program to prevent and stop abuse and foster healing and peace for the victims. We continue to look for ways to strengthen our proactive program to combat abuse and care for those whose lives have been harmed by this evil. As we identify new tactics or approaches that will decrease the potential for abuse, we will implement them.
Convicted Abusers Not Permitted to Work with Children
If those convicted of child abuse pay the legal price for their crimes and undergo the rigorous repentance process, they can be forgiven and may regain their membership. As Christians, we believe in forgiveness, but forgiveness does not necessarily mean it is safe for a former abuser to work with children.
Responsibility to Educate, Be Watchful
The Church encourages families to talk with their children about child abuse and to educate themselves on how to recognize and prevent abuse. Parents are also encouraged to be engaged in their children’s activities and to make time to establish open and trusting lines of communication with their children. Everyone in and out of the Church has a responsibility to be alert and watchful against abuse. Generally, someone who abuses others is skilled at deception and hiding his or her actions. Churches, youth organizations, families, and society as a whole must be vigilant.
Our Duty to Safeguard Children
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to speak out against the abuse of children and youth. We take child abuse seriously, and we strive to be exhaustive in our efforts to protect children and prevent the hurt, pain, and shame caused by abuse. This is our duty as followers of Jesus Christ and our responsibility as citizens of the communities in which we live. While only the Savior Jesus Christ offers perfection, we will do everything we can to prevent, report and address the abuse of children.