Officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Friday they are evaluating reports that satanic cults dedicated to sexually abusing children are operating within the church.

The issue arose Thursday with television news reports about an internal church memo suggesting that as many as 800 people may be involved in the practice along the Wasatch Front."Satanic worship and ritualistic abuse are problems that have been around for centuries and are international in scope," said a statement issued Friday by the church public affairs department. "While they are, numerically, not a problem of major proportions among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for those who may be involved they are serious."

The church has strived to help local ecclasiastical leaders understand and deal with the issue, the statement said, citing a Sept. 18 message from the First Presidency "reaffirming their concern about such distasteful practices and encouraging vigilance in detecting and treating situations that may arise."

The memo describing the satanic activities was written July 19, 1990, by Bishop Glenn L. Pace, of the Presiding Bishopric. It was leaked to local media, including the Salt Lake Messenger, an anti-LDS publication that published the memo.

The 12-page document, addressed to the Strengthening Church Members Committee, includes six pages of LDS scripture citations to back Bishop Pace's charge that satanic cults do exist.

In his memo, Bishop Pace said satanic abusers in Utah "represent a cross-section of the Mormon culture." The cults' members, he wrote, may include Young Women and Young Men leaders, bishops, a patriarch, a stake president, temple workers and members of the Tabernacle Choir. The abuses have even taken place in church meeting houses, he said.

Bishop Pace is one of 27 community leaders sitting on a ritual-abuse subcommittee of the Governer's Commission for Women and Families. The committee, whose members also include therapists, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, religious leaders, former U.S. Attorney Brent Ward, an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch, an assistant attorney general and first lady Colleen Bangerter, has been meeting since February 1990.

In response to questions about the memo, a church spokesman said, "The church prefers not to discuss internal communications designed to deal with this sensitive and difficult matter."

The Deseret News in September published a four-part series on the subject of ritualistic sexual abuse of children, and included information from people - therapists, law enforcement officers and social scientists - who believe an organized network of satanists employ twisted rituals in committing such crimes as child sex abuse, cannibalism and human sacrifice.

The series also included interviews with people from the same professional groups who say the allegations are untrue.

On Sept. 18, the First Presidency, in a letter to priesthood leaders, noted that they occasionally receive reports of people who engage in ritualistic practices including forms of satanic worship and cautioned members "not to affiliate in any way with the occult or those mysterious powers it espouses."

Their statement continued, "Such activities are among the works of darkness spoken of in the scriptures. They are designed to destroy one's faith in Christ, and will jeopardize the salvation of those who knowingly promote this wickedness. These things should not be pursued as games, be topics in Church meetings, or be delved into in private, personal conversations."

The First Presidency advised bishops and branch presidents who encounter such activities to seek counsel from their stake or mission leaders, who themselves could seek guidance from area presidencies.

"We express our love and concern to innocent victims who have been subjected to these practices by conspiring men and women," the statement said. "We are sensitive to their suffering and assure them that help is available through the mercy and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

According to those who believe that satanic activities are occurring, victims are tortured sexually in ceremonies that mock religious rituals. The rituals are designed to force the victims to dissociate their pain, to the point that they develop multiple personalities. In this way, the torturers gain absolute control over their victims.

The torturers allegedly conceal themselves in their communities' dominant religions.

Therapists who treat the victims say they don't necessarily remember their torture, until something triggers a buried memory. "I'm sorry to say that many of the victims have had their first flashbacks while attending the temple for the first time," Bishop Pace wrote in his memo.

But therapists who doubt the phenomenon say many of the allegations are suspect because they are disclosed under hypnosis, and that the alleged victims are confusing fact with fantasy.

And many law enforcement officers say the dearth of evidence invalidates claims of an organized satanic network.