Facing excommunication, former LDS bishop says Mormon leaders could learn from Catholic Church

Sam Young, center, holds a sign during a petition drive in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 1, 2017 | File photo courtesy of Sam Young, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A man who is facing the prospect of excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his activism against the way the church conducts youth worthiness interviews says implementing policies like those of the Roman Catholic Church that prevent one-on-one interactions between clergy and children will better protect young church members.

Sam Young, a Texas man who served as a bishop for the church from 1991 to 1996, said he received a letter issued by the church Wednesday notifying him of a “formal disciplinary council” in which he could be subject to probation, disfellowship or excommunication from the church.

Sam Young, a Mormon father from Houston who is seeking an end to sexually explicit interviews of Mormon youth by their LDS bishops, talks during a news conference in Salt Lake City, Jan. 18, 2018 | File photo by Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune via Associated Press, St. George News

Young has spearheaded the “Protect LDS Children” campaign, calling on church leaders to bring an end to closed-door, one-on-one interviews in which adolescent church members are asked by adult male lay leaders if they are adhering to the church’s rules regarding sexual activity.

In the disciplinary letter, Young is accused of encouraging others to vote opposed to church leaders and organizing more than one public action that expressed opposition to the church or its leaders.

Since October 2017, Young has led multiple protests, issued a petition and engaged in a 23-day hunger strike in an attempt to effect change in the youth interview process, which he says has the potential to shame children.

“I don’t want to be excommunicated. I want to go in and vigorously defend myself,” Young said in an interview with St. George News, adding that he doubts he will be successful in preserving his church membership based on the contents of the disciplinary letter.

“It sends a lot of signals to me that excommunication is a foregone conclusion,” Young said.

Whatever the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding ends up being, he said it will be another opportunity to shed light on a practice that he and thousands of others have voiced opposition to.

“We’re the most dangerous institutional church in America, and I’m working to change that,” Young said.

About 1,000 Mormons and former Mormons march to the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings, March 30, 2018 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Following the public outcry over the youth interview process, the church made some policy changes and clarifications, including allowing children to ask a parent or adult to be present with them during the interviews.

But Young said the changes don’t go far enough in ensuring the safety of Mormon youth.

“The interviews are only not one-on-one if the kid asks for someone to be in the room,” he said. “So we’re putting the responsibility to protect our children on the children themselves. That’s a ludicrous policy.”

The church also recently released a list of 13 questions clergy are expected to ask during interviews, which includes the direct question: “Do you live the law of chastity?”

Young says the list of questions are ones church leaders “have to ask,” but they have discretion to ask any other questions they see fit, including ones of a sexual nature.

“They have not addressed the sexual questions at all,” Young said. “Everything’s still fair game.”

He said the church distributes literature to youth that compares the severity of sexual sins to murder.

“That’s a horrible message to send to kids,” Young said.

Mormons and former Mormons march to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2018| Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

In a previous statement, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said church leaders are counseled to not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions but that there are times when a “discussion of moral cleanliness” is appropriate.

“In these instances leaders are counseled to adapt the discussion to the understanding of the individual and to exercise care not to encourage curiosity or experimentation,” the church-issued statement reads.

Since taking up the cause, Young said he has received accounts from thousands of current and former church members who say the interviews caused them distress in their youth. Some people, he said, were driven to consider or even attempt suicide because of the shame they felt as a result of probing questions about masturbation, pornography or sexual activity.

Young said the church could take a cue from the Catholic Church, which has instituted policies eliminating any one-on-one interactions between priests and children in the wake of decades of sexual abuse by clergy involving thousands of children.

“The Catholic priests can no longer ask the children sexually explicit questions,” Young said. “If a Catholic priest asks a youth if they masturbate, they fire the priest. It’s a fireable offense.

“The Catholic Church has put things in place to prevent it. We (the LDS church) have all the things in place to continue to facilitate the horrible things that have happened in our church just like they happened in the Catholic Church.”

Jesse Stay, a former scout master, shows his support with other Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2018 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

In his statement, Hawkins said any church leaders who become aware of incidents of abuse are directed to call a 24-hour help line to seek guidance from professional counselors and legal professionals in how to identify, report and respond to abuse.

Young said the church should further change its policy to require at least two adults to be present at all interviews and ban any questions of a sexual nature.

“My focus is protecting children,” Young said, explaining that he attempted to go through the church-prescribed channels to try to effect change before making the issue public.

“Nothing worked when I just went to the bishop and stake president. I gave them letters to go to the apostles – they went nowhere. So, the only avenue I have for effecting change is to create awareness.”

The church says it has listened to Young’s concerns, saying the following in a July 29 statement posted on the church’s Newsroom website:

Church leaders at every level—from Sam’s local bishop and stake president to a recent conversation with a general authority—have met with him to express love, to listen and to counsel with him. They have received and reviewed his materials and understand clearly his viewpoint. Further meetings with him are not necessary to clarify his position on this matter.

Young said he accepts the possibility that he will be “laid on the altar of spiritual death by being excommunicated” if it means garnering further awareness of the issue to church members and nonmembers alike.

In a statement issued to media, the church said it doesn’t provide information about disciplinary proceedings in order to respect the privacy of those involved and that church discipline is administered by local leaders who are familiar with the individual and his or her circumstances.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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12 Comments

  • 42214 August 31, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    Is excommunication a bad thing. Sounds like he gets a 10 percent pay raise, Sundays off and can wear normal underwear.

  • Striker4 August 31, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    Certain members of a religious group get offended when they are publicly called out for what they really are and do

    • Real Life September 1, 2018 at 8:11 am

      You are trying way too hard.

    • mesaman September 1, 2018 at 8:46 pm

      I would support your view, Striker. It would seem this occurs in most every religious organization when certain members feel they are to follow a quest, irresistibly drawn to a set of perceptions that supersedes and violates the belief system they once held.

  • great success September 1, 2018 at 12:11 am

    Excommunicated because opposition to church leaders? It would be Nice if church leaders practice what they preach. Humility. Sorry quorum of the 12 and first presidency, but you don’t know everything. Some of these boys that got duped by the salamander letter are still in the ranks today. Hi Oaks. How about drop the egos and stop bullying those who raise concerns against your authority. You don’t want to be stuck trying to save face from your errors like in previous instances!

  • youcandoit September 1, 2018 at 12:38 am

    That’s not right it’s none of their business they’re not the parents of these children. Are they that controlling? They can spin it how they want it’s just wrong to ask a personal question. They’re not God. Pray for the children. The parents should protect their children from being put through this.

  • chris keele September 1, 2018 at 10:32 am

    Well I am not too sure that any comparison with the Catholic Church and how they conduct interviews with youth has turned out to be such a good example to follow has it? They have a lot of explaining to do it would seem.

    • Anejo September 1, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      When the best advice you’re given is to look at the catholic church as an example of how to correct inappropriate behaviour towards children the lunatics are truly running the asylum.

      • great success September 1, 2018 at 7:29 pm

        I was thinking the same thing Anejo! It’s not a very high bar, and sad Mormon church won’t even reach to their rival’s standard in stopping, at least in policy, adult men from asking adolescent girls and boys if they masturbate.

        • Anejo September 1, 2018 at 8:27 pm

          It’s frankly baffling, Great Success. Of all the organisations to pick, of all the superb work done by charities across the world, they decide to follow the lead of an organisation that has protected sex-offenders by the thousands, GLOBALLY.

          Scandal after scandal and a group of officials in the mormon church thought “…hmm. That’s the example we should follow.”

          It’s almost like the PR department over at Temple Square have been napping at their scriptures as they seem to just create a publicity disaster everytime they try to get a grip on a story. Maybe a couple of cups of coffee in the morning would keep them in front of the tabloids? You’d think the living the prophet would have a better strategy than “Follow the Pope’s example!”

        • mesaman September 1, 2018 at 8:49 pm

          I doubt they will spend very many moments cogitating your comments, GS. Any comparison of one set of canons with those of another religion are lugubrious at best.

  • Shorm September 1, 2018 at 10:48 am

    The church already allows another adult to be in the room and the only question relating to sexuality is “do you keep the law of chastity?” when age appropriate. If your bishop pushes beyond that and you’re uncomfortable then report it to the Stake President.

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