As the public waits for updates on the Utah County Sheriff’s Office investigation into “ritualized child sexual abuse”, we take a deep dive into the history of the allegations which involve The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An investigation into ritualized child sexual abuse was first announced by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office on May 31st. The USCO released a statement detailing how “multiple county and federal agencies are investigating reports of ritualistic child sexual abuse from as far back as 1990”.
I have been following the investigation since the initial announcement and reporting on various angles of the story. I encourage readers to spend time with the previous four parts of this series, particularly the third report on the history of similar allegations in the state of Utah.
For this report I will be looking at the historical record, including lawsuits, church records, and previous reporting from other outlets to document the history of allegations involving members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church. I have spoken with current and former members of the Church who hold varying views regarding allegations of ritualized child sexual abuse.
Some former members of the Church of Mormon believe the church itself is corrupted at its root which allows for these types of activities to happen in the first place. I have also spoken with members of the Church of Mormon who acknowledge that the church has a pedophile problem, but do not believe the core structures of the church are infected by pedophiles.
I want to make it clear that this investigation is not intended to be an attack on anyone’s religious beliefs, or individual Mormons. Nor is this piece intended to paint the picture that the entire Church of Mormon is aware of the reports of child sexual abuse. Although some former members of the church have gone so far as accusing the Church of Mormon of being a front for Masonic and/or Satanic activity, I am not ready to make such a judgement. However, I do believe these controversial claims warrant further investigation.
For part 5 of our series we will be examining 4 different examples of sexual abuse involving members of the Church of Mormon over the last 40 plus years.
The Pace Memo
In 1990, Glenn L. Pace, a general authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote a memo to church leadership describing claims of widespread ritualistic abuse within the church. The memo, dated July 19, 1990, was based on the complaints of sixty members of the church who claimed they were forced to participate in various rituals, sometimes referred to as “satanic.”
“I have met with sixty victims. That number could be twice or three times as many if I did not discipline myself to only one meeting per week,” Pace wrote. “I have not wanted my involvement with this issue to become a handicap in fulfilling my assigned responsibilities. On the other hand, I felt someone needed to pay the price to obtain an intellectual and spiritual conviction as to the seriousness of this problem within the Church.”
Pace sent the memo to LDS President Ezra Taft Benson detailing a year of interviews with alleged ritual abuse survivors in Utah, Idaho, California, and Mexico. The Pace memo describes incidents of ritualized abuse, and even claims of human sacrifice.
Pace would state that he was convinced at least 800 members of the church were involved or had knowledge of the abuse, including bishops, a diocese president, patriarchs, temple workers, members of the church’s Young Women and Young Men groups, and members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Pace said he believed the purpose of the torture of children was to cause disassociation. He said as a result of the disassociation, children would “develop a new personality to enable them to endure various forms of abuse”.
“The basic objective is premeditated — to systematically and methodically torture and terrorize children until they are forced to dissociate,” Pace wrote. “The torture is not a consequence of the loss of temper, but the execution of well-planned, well-thought out rituals often performed by close relatives. The only escape for the children is to dissociate.”
Once the Pace Memo leaked to the public, the Church of Mormon was quick to dismiss the claims made by Pace. ‘‘It seems to me that even though one actual case is tragic and is one too many, the reports of ritualistic killings are likely overblown, whether they be in connection with members of our church, of other churches or any other segment of society, none of which is immune,” Church spokesman Don LeFevre told the Chicago Tribune at the time of the leak.
Sgt. Don Bell, chief of the Salt Lake City police department’s intelligence unit at the time of the Pace Memo, told the Tribune that his office receives about six reports a year alleging satanic abuse. “I have no doubt whatsoever that these people who describe enduring satanic ritual abuse are victims of some very profound type of abuse,” Bell said. “But I do not believe that there is an inter-generational network of Satanists active in this valley.”
Pace himself told the media he was skeptical of the allegations until he spent a year interviewing survivors of the rituals, many who suffered from disassociated identity disorder and various psychological traumas as a result of the abuse.
As a result of the Pace Memo, the church’s ruling three-man First Presidency, led by Ezra Taft Benson at the time, sent a letter to local church leaders warning about Satanism. The letter warned church members against affiliating with “the occult or those mysterious powers it espouses”.
The Pace Memo going mainstream was one of the reasons the Utah Attorney General’s office launched their own investigation into ritual abuse in 1992. As detailed in part 3 of this series, the Utah Attorney General’s office hired Mike King and Mark Jacobson to further investigate the claims of ritualistic sexual abuse.
The final report for the AG’s office found that “evidence has been uncovered to support the thought that individuals have in the past, and are now committing crime in the name of Satan or other deity”. However, they also found that “the allegations” of organized satanists, even groups of satanists who have permeated every “level of government and religion were unsubstantiated”.
Regarding the accusations against the leadership of the Church of Mormon, Mike King told the Salt Lake Tribune they were “absurd”.
Thirty years after the Pace Memo was released to the public, it has largely been forgotten by those outside of the Church of Mormon. Despite the claims of absurdity by Mike King, Glen Pace remained committed to telling the stories of the alleged victims. In the conclusion to his memo, he writes:
“I also believe that the scriptures cited and many others that could be quoted argue against our being passive about the problem. I don’t want to be known as an alarmist or a fanatic on the issue. Now that I have put what I have learned in writing to you, I feel the issue is in the right court.
“I hope to take a low profile on the subject and get on with the duties which I have been formally assigned. This is not to say I would not be willing to be of service. Over the last eighteen months I have acquired a compassionate love and respect for the victims who are fighting for the safety of their physical lives and, more importantly, their souls.”
In 1993, a book was published purporting to be the stories of two different women in the Church of Mormon who has suffered sexual abuse within the community. The book, Paperdolls: Healing from Sexual Abuse in Mormon Neighborhoods, is written by the pseudonymous authors April Daniels and Carol Scott.
Publisher’s Weekly described the book as a “moving and often frustrating” document that alternates between the experiences of Daniels and Scott.
“Daniels, a banker in her early 30s, begins to recall the abuse she suffered, beginning when she was five, at the hands of various relatives and neighbors,” the review states. “Scott, the mother of a friend of hers and a psychology professor, records her discovery that many of the same people recently have been abusing her grandchildren. Both women are Mormons, and most of the nearly 20 abusers appear to be church members.”
April claims her parents were “secret alcoholics” who took pornographic photos of each other with the family’s Polaroid camera. She says when she was seven years old she was “orally raped” by her father to the point that her front teeth were loose for six months. April says her mother had a nervous breakdown and never noticed or commented on the smell of urine on her clothes, the blood and semen on her underwear, or the hours she cried at night.
While Carol and April do not describe the abuse as “Satanic”, Carol did believe that “touching parties” had a ritualized element to them. She outlined how first the children would be shown pornographic movies of other children before being made to undress and masturbate each other. This would be followed by oral and anal sex with everyone present.
After the publication of Paperdolls there were apparently internal discussions among the church leadershipregarding the true identities of the women and their alleged abusers. However, if the stories are indeed accurate, it does not appear anyone was ever held accountable.
Leaving The Saints
In 2005, Martha Beck, daughter of Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley, released the book, Leaving the Saints: how I lost the Mormons and found my faith. Beck’s book was controversial for accusations that she was sexually abused by her father, and for her claim of recovered memories of the abuse.
Beck says that church leadership were aware of her father’s crimes and chose to do nothing. Further, she accuses the church leadership of aiding his crimes, by failing to act.
“I speculated about how widely gossip about my accusations had already spread through the Latter-day Saint community, a community singularly skilled at sweeping allegations of sexual abuse under various homespun carpets,” Beck writes. “I imagined that certain people now looked at me strangely, spoke to me in guarded, hesitant tones. I suspected that even though the Mormon powers that be might not actually threaten my life, they would probably try to ruin it. Yes, these suspicions were outlandish. Yes, they were paranoid. And yes, they were completely accurate.”
On page 261 of her book, she laments the fact that more hasn’t been done to establish whether child sexual abuse is more common in Mormon country than in the rest of the United States.
“Personally, I think the answer is yes, particularly in the core population of Mormons who are descended from polygamous ancestors,” she writes. “Since moving away from Utah and working as a life coach for hundreds of people from all walks of life, I have encountered only a handful who say they were sexually abused as children. In Provo, at the Lord’s University, it seemed that I couldn’t open my car door without smacking an incest survivor.”
In the chronology of the sexual abuse in the larger Mormon community, the case of Warren Jeffs looms large. Jeffs is a convicted pedophile and former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church), a denomination of the Church of Mormon which still practices polygamy.
Warren Jeffs’ father, Rulon Jeffs, became the president of the FLDS Church in 1986. This eventually paved the way for Warren to assume power in the church and begin amassing his own cult following which he ruled with an iron fist. Eventually, the accusations against Warren would enlighten the outside world to what exactly was taking place at Jeffs’ Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
While we don’t have the space here to do a full exposition of Warren Jeffs and his rise and fall within the FLDS Church, it is worth noting a few points about his disturbing saga.
First, the case against Jeff’s includes accusations of rape and sexual assault by Jeffs’ own nephew, Brent Jeffs. In July 2004, Brent Jeffs filed a lawsuit that Warren Jeffs had anally raped him at the FLDS Church’s Salt Lake Valley compound in the late 1980s. Brent Jeffs wrote a memoir titled Lost Boy describing various incidents of child sexual abuse at the hands of Warren Jeffs, his brothers, and other family members. The sexual abuse happened when Brent Jeffs was 5 or 6 years old.
Brent’s brother Clayne also made accusations against Warren Jeffs before committing suicide.
Second, Warren Jeffs own children also accused him of sexually abusing them. The accusations make it clear that the case against Jeffs was not only about polygamy, as some have claimed, but about a serial pedophile who was enabled by the community around him who regarded him as a prophet of God.
Although the FLDS is a separate organization from the larger, mainstream LDS Church, the fact remains that silence from church members, family members, and church leadership allowed the crimes of Warren Jeffs to persist as long as they did.
For those wanting to know more about this topic, I recommend watching the documentary series, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.
Russell M. Nelson
The most recent example of accusations against Mormon Church leadership involves the current president of the church, Russel M. Nelson. Nelson is a retired surgeon who served in various church positions before becoming a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for nearly 34 years, eventually becoming church president in January 2018. Nelson is considered a prophet by members of the LDS Church.
However, by late 2018 it was reported that a lawsuit was attempting to force Nelson to testify regarding allegations his daughter and son-in-law had been involved in sexual abuse of children.
FOX13 in Utah reported on the lawsuit:
“The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday by six unnamed people listed only as “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” against unnamed “Doe 1 Male Defendant” and “Doe 2 Female Defendant.” However, Brenda and Richard Miles’ attorney publicly disclosed their names after the lawsuit was filed and said they vigorously deny the allegations.”
FOX 13 reports that the lawsuit alleges that in 1985, a man only identified as “Perpetrator” in the court papers sexually abused his children. The lawsuit claims a 16-year-old babysitter was both a victim and an abuser, and later committed suicide.
The plaintiffs allege that “DOE 1 MALE DEFENDANT” and “DOE 2 FEMALE DEFENDANT” ran “touching parties” at their home and the Perpetrator’s home. These parties were attended by friends of the Defendants and Perpetrator.
The mother of the children told FOX 13 she reported the abuse to police, but they failed to pursue the case. She also said when LDS Church leaders were told of the incidents they did nothing and an Elder Neal A. Maxwell instructed them to “forgive and forget.”
“I assumed the highest leaders in the church would want to help my children heal, that the perpetrators would be put in jail. I was very quickly disillusioned about that,” she told FOX 13.
It would be revealed that the defendants were indeed Brenda and Richard Miles, daughter and son-in-law of Russell Nelson. James Jardine, lawyer for the Miles’, told FOX 13 “there’s no truth to these allegations. The Miles did not abuse these children or anyone else”.
Jardine said Bountiful Police — where the abuse is alleged to have happened — investigated the accusations in the 1980’s and concluded there was nothing to the claims. The Miles immediately filed a motion to dismiss the case with the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
By December of 2018 an attorney representing six unnamed plaintiffs called for an early deposition of LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson. “Russell M. Nelson is simply a witness,” Craig Vernon, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told FOX 13.
Vernon said he was attempting to depose Nelson and Craig Smith, who was the president over the Bountiful ward at the time of the allegations, because James Jardine’s effort to delay the case until the Utah Supreme Court ruled on the issue of statutes of limitations in sexual abuse lawsuits.
Vernon argued that Nelson was 94 at the time and a delay could endanger the case. “Russell M. Nelson has information that’s relevant. He was there right after this came to light,” Vernon told FOX 13 in December 2018.
On January 6, 2019, the LDS Church would release their own statement defending Nelson and pushing back on the idea that he needed to be deposed. “Much of the abuse scare has been attributed to an over-reliance on recovered-memory therapy, a disowned practice which has the potential to create or ‘plant’ false memories through hypnosis, repetition and the power of suggestion,” the Church wrote.
Ten days later, U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish denied the motion to speed up the deposition of Nelson.
By summer 2020, the case would be dismissed due to a ruling by the Utah Supreme Court regarding statutes of limitations for sexual abuse claims. Judge Parrish agreed to dismiss the lawsuit at the request of lawyers for both the six unnamed plaintiffs, and Brenda and Richard Miles. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice so it cannot be refiled again.
“The Miles brought a motion to dismiss arguing that the new (2015) statute extending the time to sue perpetrators was unconstitutional. Our case was stayed so that very issue could be determined by the Utah Supreme Court in Mitchell v Roberts. Our case was eviscerated when it was determined that these claims could not be revived and that this statute was unconstitutional,” Craig Vernon told FOX 13.
With the case dismissed with prejudice it is difficult to imagine how the public might learn if the accusations were true, and, clearly, no one will be held accountable for the alleged crimes.
The 2021 Investigation By The UCSO
This history now brings us full circle to the current investigation being conducted by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. For the last five weeks I have explored various elements of this case, interviewing current and former members of the LDS Church; speaking with Sgt Spencer Cannon of the UCSO, and poring over the documents related to the 2012 case against David Lee Hamblin.
I will continue to report any future updates involving the Sheriff’s Office investigation. I am also still open to receiving emails and messages from those who have a story to share relating to ritualized child sexual abuse in Utah, and elsewhere.
While I can’t speak to the validity of every single claim made regarding the LDS Church and the apparent abundance of sex rings in Utah, I can say, without a doubt, that these types of criminal activities do happen, and are often dismissed by the propagandized public, the compliant corporate media, and in some cases, law enforcement as well.
The only way we will ever get to the truth of the claims of ritualized sexual abuse of children is to listen to the alleged victims and conduct independent, transparent investigations into their claims. Unfortunately, many of the alleged victims have been ignored for decades, only to be told later in life that the statute of limitations has run out and their abusers cannot be held accountable.