The Mormon Church refused to help a sex abuse survivor, then paid her to destroy evidence
The bishop who heard the abuser's confession couldn't say anything. The LDS Church thought money could keep the victim quiet, too.
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In 2017, 31-year-old Chelsea Goodrich told an attorney for the Mormon Church, Paul Rytting, that her father, a Mormon bishop, had sexually abused her as a child. In fact, Rytting had confessed that very crime to his bishop, Michael Miller.
Goodrich and her mother were in Utah that day, meeting with both Rytting and Miller, to see if the Mormon Church would allow Miller to testify in a trial against her father.
It wasn’t enough that John Goodrich had been kicked out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which, thankfully, he was. The family wanted justice. That meant putting him behind bars for what he had done.
You can guess how this particular story ended.
Citing the confidentiality of anything revealed in confession, the Mormon Church lawyer, who served as the head of the church’s Risk Management Division, basically told the family there was nothing more they could do. The Church was protected by what’s known as the “clergy-penitent privilege,” allowing confessions to remain a secret no matter how damning they may be.
Chelsea’s biggest mistake was thinking the Mormon Church’s lawyer would be concerned about her safety when his job was to protect the institution. Hell, that may have been why John Goodrich confessed to his crimes in an act of confession; as a bishop, he knew as well as anyone that his secret could never be used against him. (He also blamed Satan for his actions.)
Because the Church wouldn’t make Miller available to testify, prosecutors felt they didn’t have a solid case against John Goodrich… and dropped all charges. Goodrich didn’t go to jail. He didn’t suffer in any meaningful way because of what he did to his daughter. In fact, he’s currently working as a dentist in Idaho.
(Upon hearing about these allegations, another woman accused Goodrich of drugging and raping her. As part of a plea deal allowing him to avoid charges of sex crimes, he was sentenced to “90 days in jail and three years of probation” for distributing that sedative. He, in essence, admitted to a drug charge in order to escape the more serious sex crime charge. Meanwhile, he faced no punishment for what he did to his own child.)
Those details are part of a stunning new article by Michael Rezendes and Jason Dearen of the Associated Press.
And it gets worse.
The LDS Church lawyer knew that his meetings with the Goodriches were being recorded by the family, so four months later, he offered them a disturbing consolation prize: The Church would give them $300,000 if they…
Destroyed the tapes
Promised to not sue the Mormon Church
Pretended this very conversation never happened.
It was too much money to turn away. The Goodriches took them up on the offer.
But nothing in the contract said Chelsea couldn’t discuss her ordeal with reporters.
More importantly, one person who didn’t sign the non-disclosure agreement was Chelsea’s friend Eric Alberdi, who attended those meetings as her advocate and made his own recordings… and then shared them with the Associated Press.
“Going into this meeting with Rytting, I felt like it would be very clear, once everything’s laid out that, look, this is not something that we want to cover up,” said Eric Alberdi, a church member who attended the meetings as Chelsea’s advocate and also made recordings, which he shared with the AP.
“This is something that we want to uncover for a number of reasons, so that John … doesn’t do this again. So that Chelsea can move forward,” said Alberdi, who was not bound by the confidentiality agreement and who has since left the church. “You know, covering this up did not make any sense.”
In a statement to the AP, the church said “the abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable,” and that John Goodrich, following his excommunication, “has not been readmitted to church membership.”
This is the Mormon Church for you: They think kicking someone out of their club is the worst kind of punishment, but they won’t do a damn thing to prevent an alleged child sex predator from striking again even when they have the power to do so. Sexual abuse is “inexcusable,” they claim, while refusing to do the bare minimum to prevent sexual abuse.
The saddest thing is that the law is on the Church’s side here. The same AP reporters have been covering this topic for a while now, and just last month, they wrote about how a judge in Arizona tossed out a fairly clear-cut case of sexual abuse precisely because of the clergy-penitent privilege. The Church knows they can get away with this, which is why, through their internal “help line,” lawyers advise bishops to keep their mouths shut when confronted with confessions of sexual abuse.
When the AP contacted the bishop who heard Goodrich’s confession, he remained adamant about the need for secrecy:
Reached by phone by the AP, Miller refused to discuss details. “It’s clergy privilege,” he said. “If I say anything, (John Goodrich) can sue me for millions of dollars.”
The sad thing is that he’s probably right. The Church will use that sweet, sweet tithe money to pay victims to keep quiet, but they’re never going to pay the legal bills for a bishop who breaks the seal of confession to help a victim of abuse and gets sued as a result.
As the AP pointed out, 33 states offer an exemption for clergy members to laws requiring professionals (like public school teachers and doctors) to report allegations of child sex abuse to law enforcement officials. And the Mormon Church, just like the Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have repeatedly lobbied lawmakers to make sure that exemption doesn’t go away.
I’ve said this before, but the reason religious institutions don’t want the exemption taken off the books is because they value their secrecy more than others’ safety. Their religious dogma is more important than another child getting sexually abused. They believe confessions are a sacrament and anything less than complete confidentiality would be an obstacle to the practice of their faith.
More simply, they just don’t give a shit about abuse victims. The rule turns religious leaders into moral monsters, preventing them from helping those who need it.
Even the LDS Church’s response to this AP story confirms everything in it:
The entire thing boils down to: We followed the law, so don’t blame us… even though the law is broken (due to lobbying by the Church!), the Church’s own actions made it harder for the sex abuse survivor to seek justice, and they freely admit to using money to shut down a potential lawsuit against them.
That faith-based “glaring loophole” has been a blessing for abusers everywhere. They get to pretend they’re getting right with God, all while giving them a chance to continue their predatory ways. And religious groups like the Mormon Church are perfectly fine with that. They sure as hell won’t argue that the law should change because that would mean more accountability on their end.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)