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Mormon Media Observer: Church lawyer sets record straight on child-abuse column

The LDS Church's chief outside legal counsel has responded to a critical column on the legal website Findlaw, saying the church's system for reporting and responding to child abuse is the "gold standard."

Von G. Keetch, chief outside legal counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responded to highly critical column written by Marci A. Hamilton that among other things suggested the LDS Church's approach to child abuse is similar to that in the Roman Catholic Church, which has been embroiled in a priest-child abuse scandal.

Keetch responded in a recent column:

"The LDS Church has long had a highly effective approach for preventing and responding to abuse. In fact, no religious organization has done more. Although no one system is perfect and no single program will work with every organization, the LDS Church's approach is the gold standard."

Hamilton — based on interviews with attorneys, reading of case law and a read of a Doctrine and Covenants lesson manual — suggested the following:

"Thus, the LDS Church has created essentially the same opaque system that the Catholic Church has employed when it comes to child sex abuse. While the polygamy, child brides and sex abuse endemic to the polygamous sects are not permitted or encouraged by LDS, the structure of the organization, the importance of its self-image as a leader of virtue in the world, and its intent to protect the church from liability have, together, yielded a cycle of abuse that is not at all unlike that which has been widely documented in the Roman Catholic Church."

Hamilton's main assertion throughout the column is that the LDS Church is more concerned about its image than responding to abuse and the church's doctrine and practice fosters little outside review.

Keetch wrote the following:

"The LDS Church takes significant precautions to guard against abuse within its congregations. Official church policy states: 'All members, especially parents and leaders, are encouraged to be alert and diligent and do all they can to protect children and others against abuse and neglect.' Members are taught to be aware of the issue and to alert law enforcement and church leaders if they believe a child is in danger. The church fully supports compliance with child abuse reporting laws and regularly encourages members to report. The suggestion that the church instructs members to keep abuse issues solely within the church is false. The church enforces a 'two-deep' policy so that adult males who work with children or youth are never alone with a minor. At great expense, the church is currently installing windows in the classroom doors of thousands of its meetinghouses so that children are never out of sight. As a result of these and many other efforts, abuse on church properties or during church activities is rare."

Hamilton's credibility comes into question when she doesn't get some of the basic facts right, including a suggestion that Mitt Romney would be considered a prophet if elected and ahw erroneously ties the LDS Church with polygamist sects and their practices. In her column, Hamilton, who is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, suggested she welcomes response from the LDS Church authorities. While she may be a lawyer, she could learn something from journalists who try to get their facts straight before they publish an article. If she really wanted a balanced column, wouldn't she have sought out the facts from LDS authorities before she published her piece on the Web? Of course, Hamilton gets the last word, with her response to Keetch's column.