Question: What is Mormonism's stance toward the victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, or incest?


Question: What is Mormonism's stance toward the victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, or incest?

Members who are victims of these sins are innocent of any wrongdoing

  1. Sexual crimes virtually always require excommunication from the Church, and members guilty of these serious crimes have annotations placed upon their membership record that remain even if they return to full membership. Members guilty of such crimes have a lifetime ban on service with youth, missionary service, and temple service.
  2. Members who are victims of these sins are innocent of any wrongdoing. The Church encourages them to seek help, and to receive the healing available to all through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

The Church has a no-tolerance stance toward abuse

Statements from Church Sources

The Church's handbooks emphasize that one purpose of Church discipline is to protect the innocent, especially against such crimes as predatory sexual behavior:

The second purpose of Church discipline is to protect the innocent. With inspiration, a priesthood leader should act to protect others when a transgressor poses a physical or spiritual threat to them, such as by predatory practices, physical harm, sexual abuse, drug misuse, fraud, or apostasy (see Alma 5:59–60). (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.1.2)

Likewise, victims of such crimes are innocent of sin:

In instances of abuse, the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. Victims of sexual abuse (including rape) often suffer serious trauma and feelings of guilt.

Victims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin. Church leaders should be sensitive to such victims and give caring attention to help them overcome the destructive effects of abuse. (Handbook 1 [2010], 17.3.2)

Help for victims of abuse

Those who have been the victims of the unrighteous acts of others are not guilty of any sin. Latter-day Saints believe that the atonement of Christ can heal all suffering, injustices, and traumas through Christ's grace. Many articles and resources are available, and members with such concerns are encouraged to consult with their local leaders.

One guide for bishops begins:

Abuse includes the physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual mistreatment of others. The first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused in a kind and sensitive way and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. Abuse not only harms the body, but also deeply affects the mind and spirit. It often destroys faith and always causes confusion, doubt, mistrust, guilt, and fear. Help the member understand that he or she is not responsible for the abuser’s behavior and that faith can be regained or strengthened and hope and healing can come through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. [1]

Mandatory discipline for the perpetrator of the abuse

Church disciplinary action is required for a small set of sins, such as murder. Sexual abuse and incest are included in this group:

Incest

As used here, incest refers to sexual intercourse between a parent and a natural, adopted, or foster child or a stepchild. A grandparent is considered the same as a parent. Incest also refers to sexual intercourse between brothers and sisters. It almost always requires excommunication. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. The stake president may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary. If a minor commits incest, the stake president contacts the Office of the First Presidency for direction.

Child Abuse

As used here, child abuse refers to a sexual offense against a child or physical abuse of a child. If priesthood leaders learn of or suspect child abuse, they follow the instructions in 17.3.2 [see above]. If a minor abuses a child, the stake president contacts the Office of the First Presidency for direction....

Transgressor Who Is a Predator

A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression that shows him to be a predator with tendencies that present any kind of serious threat to other persons.(Handbook 1 [2010], 6.7.3, (italics in original)

Results of discipline

Incest virtually always requires excommunication from the Church:

Excommunication is mandatory for murder...and is almost always required for incest. (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.9.3)

Return to Church membership

The First Presidency must approve any restoration of Church membership for those guilty of particularly serious sins, including:

... 2.Incest

3.Sexual offense against a child or serious physical abuse of a child by an adult or by a youth who is several years older than the child.... (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.12.10)

Flagging Church membership records

Those guilty of abuse of a child and other serious sins which place others at risk have their Church records annotated, and this annotation remains on the record permanently (even in the event of reinstatement in the Church). Only the First Presidency can authorize the removal of such an annotation:

incest, sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child,...predatory conduct.... (Handbook 1 [2010], 6.13.4)

Abusers are have lifetime ineligiblity for some callings and assignments in the Church

Even if they repent and return to full time activity in the Church, those who commit some crimes are ineligible for some types of Church service. These include:

Temple ordinance workers must:

5. Never have received formal Church discipline for sexual abuse.

6.Never have had his or her membership record annotated (see above). (Handbook 1 [2010], 3.10.2)

Those wishing to serve full-time missions are ineligible if, among other things, they

[h]ave been convicted of sexual abuse. (Handbook 1 [2010], 4.4)

Service with children or youth is also an area of particular concern:

A person whose membership record is annotated for having abused a child sexually or physically must not be given any calling or assignment involving children or youth. Also, careful consideration should be given to other assignments, such as home teaching or visiting teaching. These restrictions should remain in place until the First Presidency authorizes removal of the annotation.... (Handbook 1 [2010], 17.3.2)

Resources include:

General authority addresses

Other materials


Notes

  1. Bishop's Guide: Helping Victims of Abuse (on-line, accessed 8 January 2013).