Last week, Dr. LaVar Withers started a 30-day jail sentence, part of the punishment the former Rexburg physician received when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery after being accused of a 30-year pattern of sexually abusing female patients.
But that isn't his only punishment, an eastern Idaho newspaper reported.For at least a year, Withers has been under censure by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before Withers went to court last week and pleaded guilty to the battery charge, the church placed him on probation, according to a church source who spoke to the Post Register on condition of anonymity.
The source added that Withers also does not hold a temple recommend.
Withers' case is one example of how, in heavily LDS eastern Idaho, justice meted out by the church and the legal system can intermingle. There have been cases in which criminal defendants have mentioned to police that they are being disciplined by the church.
The church sometimes encourages offenders to admit their crimes to police, and a criminal conviction can warrant church discipline.
It is unclear when the church discipline of Withers took place or whether the discipline was decided by a disciplinary council or by Withers' bishop. The church has acknowledged as early as one year ago it took some action against Withers.
Withers, who started serving a 30-day jail sentence last week, could not be reached for comment. He will serve an additional 30 days, if a judge rules it is warranted.
The official church line has continued to be only that Withers was "disciplined."
Church rules forbid officials from revealing decisions made by disciplinary councils. They can range from no action, probation, disfellowshipment to excommunication (loss of church membership).
Following the court plea bargain, the church issued a statement saying the matter was between Withers and Idaho authorities.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long expressed its abhorrence for any form of abuse, whether the victims be children or adults. When such incidents occur, it is right and proper that the perpetrator be subject to the course of the law," it said.
"This is an essential step not only in the rehabilitation of the victims but in the repentance of the abuser. The church expresses its hope that this court decision will be the beginning of a healing process for all concerned."
Farrell Young, president of the Rexburg East Stake, in which Withers 6th Ward is located, said it was a private matter, between Withers and the church. Young said the church also protects the confidentiality of victims in such cases.
The source who informed the Post Register of Withers' discipline said the stake president did not announce it to church members.
Elizabeth Stephenson, who testified at the sentencing hearing for Withers, said she is sure that the earlier disciplinary actions taken by the church were appropriate, based on information church officials had at the time.
But based on what came out in the sentencing hearing, she said, it might be appropriate to convene a church court and review that information.