No one wants to hear of yet another ecclesiastical leader of any faith abusing their position for personal gain, much less potentially abusing youth.
Unfortunately though, this issue is one that has taken place multiple times in the past and continues to do so, even in Utah.
As the predominant religious organization in Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not immune to having potential predators in positions of trust, like bishops, stake presidencies, youth leaders and others.
This week, a Kaysville bishop, Timothy James Hallows, was arrested for allegedly possessing child porn and is now being held in the Davis County Jail without bail. He was booked on eight counts of enticing a minor by internet or text, all second-degree felonies. While investigators conducted a search warrant in his home on Wednesday, he reportedly admitted to distributing child porn online and would not cooperate in taking a polygraph test to answer questions about his sexual contact with young children because police reported he said he had gone on camping trips with children during his time serving as bishop for the LDS Church.
To be clear, Hallows has not yet been found guilty in a court of law, but remains in jail custody due to his “unfettered access to children in his congregation and in private,” the affidavit says.
On Thursday, the LDS Church issued a statement that Hallows was removed from his leadership position as soon as it learned of his arrest. It called the allegations against the now former bishop “serious and deeply troubling.”
What’s serious and deeply troubling is that predators are enabled by having private meetings with underage youth, despite repeated instances of abuse taking place behind closed doors of ecclesiastical interviews and activities outside of church buildings. Permitting parents to attend individual interviews, based on if children ask for their presence ahead of time, is not sufficient in deterring these types of potentially risky and abusive situations.
Are all leaders predators? Most definitely not. There are many who do wonderful good among their congregations. But, no measure should be “too much” in preventing opportunities for even the small number of adults in positions of trust who prey on our children. However, if these situations continue to be allowed, abuse — and its minimization — will continue. This has been apparent across history and discovered in a wide array of faith organizations.
The inconvenience of always having two leaders or a leader and a parent in meetings, interviews and activities involving children is worth the physical, emotional and mental protection that should be afforded to innocent youth. The church has taken steps in the past year to safeguard interviews by allowing parental presence, but more can and should be done.