RELIGION

Church responds to AP story detailing 2015 Idaho abuse case

Dec 4, 2023, 10:08 AM | Updated: 6:26 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded Sunday night to an Associated Press story that detailed allegations about a former church member who allegedly sexually abused his daughter.

The church swiftly excommunicated John Goodrich in 2015 after he allegedly confessed to a bishop in Mountain Home, Idaho, that he had sexually abused his daughter more than 20 years earlier.

Goodrich was arrested in 2016 and charged with lewdness, but a prosecutor asked a judge nearly a year later to dismiss the charge for lack of evidence.

On Sunday night, the Associated Press published a story that included information from recordings of a church representative talking to Goodrich’s daughter about reaching a settlement with the church when she was an adult. The story did not say why the church offered a settlement, but the story claimed it was evidence the church was trying to cover up the abuse.

The church strongly denied the allegation that it attempted to keep the abuse case a secret.

The story noted that the settlement, which included a nondisclosure agreement about the amount of the settlement and recordings made of church officials discussing it, did not preclude the survivor from telling her story.

“In 2017, the church agreed to settle a civil claim made by the survivor,” the church statement said.” Nothing in the agreement kept her from talking about the abuse she suffered or the facts of the case itself with anyone. Both parties mutually agreed not to disclose the financial terms of the settlement.”

The church provided its statement in response to questions from AP reporters Michael Rezendez and Jason Dearen. The Deseret News reached out to the church and was provided the statement Sunday night.

The church statement said Goodrich was excommunicated in October 2015 after his bishop learned of the abuse.

“He has not been readmitted to church membership,” the church statement said. “Claims that he confessed to a bishop prior to 2015 are false.”

The survivor and her mother also claimed in the story that the prosecutor abandoned the case against Goodrich because the Latter-day Saint bishop refused to testify. The church said the bishop was precluded from testifying under Idaho law, which protects clergy-penitent communications.

“Only (Goodrich) could release the bishop from his obligation under the clergy-penitent privilege, and he refused to do so,” the church statement said. “The bishop was subpoenaed to testify in this case, but prosecutors released the subpoena, and he was not recalled to testify. The church had no role in influencing the prosecuting attorney to dismiss the criminal case. Questions about the status of the criminal case should be directed to local prosecutors.”

No public record of prosecutors saying they needed the bishop’s testimony was immediately available in the public record, and the AP story does not provide any other confirmation for the statement. The AP story notes that Goodrich allegedly confessed the abuse to several other people.

“With his family and marriage in turmoil, John revealed details of his relationship with (his daughter) to visiting relatives, according to a written statement from the relatives which was ultimately submitted to authorities. They urged him to go to the police.”

Goodrich said he’d rather talk to his bishop, so relatives drove him to the home of his bishop, Michael Miller.

The AP contacted Miller by phone, but he declined to discuss details. “It’s clergy privilege,” he told the AP. “If I say anything, (John Goodrich) can sue me for millions of dollars.”

Below is the entire statement released Sunday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes this, teaches this, and dedicates tremendous resources and efforts to prevent, report and address abuse. Our hearts break for this survivor and all survivors of abuse.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints terminated the perpetrator’s membership eight years ago, in October 2015, when it learned of the abuse. He has not been readmitted to church membership. Claims that he confessed to a bishop prior to 2015 are false.

His communications with his bishop were protected by Idaho state law. Only the perpetrator could release the bishop from his obligation under the clergy penitent privilege and he refused to do so. The bishop was subpoenaed to testify in this case, but prosecutors released the subpoena, and he was not recalled to testify. The church had no role in influencing the prosecuting attorney to dismiss the criminal case. Questions about the status of the criminal case should be directed to local prosecutors.

In 2017, the church agreed to settle a civil claim made by the survivor. Nothing in the agreement kept her from talking about the abuse she suffered or the facts of the case itself with anyone. Both parties mutually agreed not to disclose the financial terms of the settlement.

The Church details how it approaches abuse on its website, churchofjesuschrist.org.

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Church responds to AP story detailing 2015 Idaho abuse case