SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints has launched a new online training program for local leaders to curb child abuse in congregations.
Church members who hold volunteer leadership positions at the regional and congregational level and those who work with children or youth organizations within the Utah-based faith will be required to take the 30-minute training, according to a church announcement made Friday.
Among other rules, the training directs leaders to have two adults present during church-sponsored activities attended by youth and to avoid extended one-on-one communication with children and teens.
The news comes in the wake of protests last year criticizing how local church leaders handle sexual abuse reports and one-on-one meetings with youth.
Thousands of current and former Latter-day Saints marched to the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City demanding an end to the closed door, one-on-one interviews between youth and lay leaders where sexual questions sometimes arise.
In response, the church changed its policy to now allow children to bring a parent or adult with them to the interviews.
The policy change followed recent revelations that a former prominent missionary leader was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s. The ex-leader denies the allegations.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the training has been under development for a few years, as part of “a continuing effort to protect children and youth.”
When asked if failure to complete the training could lead to someone’s firing or suspension, Hawkins said that could be the result. But he said they anticipate local leaders will ensure individuals complete the training.
Child safety advocates said the training signals positive change, but it doesn’t go far enough to keep children safe.
Sam Young, a former Latter-day Saint father who was kicked out of the church after leading a campaign against one-on-one interviews with youth, called the training a “win” but said the church is still “one of the most unsafe places for children.”
“I’m very happy they’re finally instructing anyone working with children on better practices, but more needs to be done,” he said.
Young said the training should be longer and materials be publicly shared so congregants can evaluate its effectiveness. An outline about the program is online, but the full training is not publicly available.
Young’s initiative, “Protect LDS Children,” is aiming to end the closed-door youth interviews. Church leaders have defended the practice as an important way for bishops to get to know youth better and determine their obedience to God.
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