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Hundreds march to change LDS Church policies on bishop interviews with youth

SALT LAKE CITY — Several hundred protesters marched in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday to call for further changes to LDS Church policies regarding local bishops' interviews with minors.

The march, led by a group called Protect LDS Children, started at the Salt Lake City-County Building at noon and made its way up State Street, ending in front of the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake police estimated about 800 to 900 were in attendance.

Organizers then presented a church representative with books they said contained the stories of those who have been uncomfortable or mistreated in interviews with bishops.

"We share a common concern for the safety and well-being of youth," Church spokeswoman Irene Caso said in a statement on behalf of the church, after meeting the group at the church office building.

Protect LDS Children Director Sam Young, a Houston-area church member and former bishop, said the group is seeking a 10-word change in policy from the church's general authorities: "No one on one interviews, no sexually explicit questions ever."

On Monday, the LDS Church announced significant policy changes regarding bishop interviews, allowing children, youth and women to invite another adult to be present during the interview.

The guidance to local church leaders now says: "When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood."

Young told the Deseret News this week that he was encouraged by the church's response.

"The one thing that I really like is that the church is listening," he said. "That is wonderful. I'm very happy to hear that."

Still, Young said he is concerned that the policy doesn't do enough to protect children. He contends it could give a bishop "big cover" by putting the responsibility on the child to think to ask for another adult to be present, which many may not think to do.

He also said the policy doesn't address eliminating sexually explicit questions from interviews, contending that such questions can be damaging to youth.

Young was asked how his policies would enable the LDS Church to ensure that those who enter temples or serve missions are living its teachings on chastity and the importance of virtue.

"How do we establish worthiness? Well how about (asking), 'Would you like to go on a mission?' Do you live the law of chastity?' (And then) we're done," Young replied.

Young said he has been unhappy with the church's policy on bishop interviews ever since he learned a few years ago that four of his six daughters had been asked detailed, "sexually explicit" questions, including one when she was 12 years old.

He said he posed a question on Facebook as to whether anyone else had experienced something similar. He said he received more than 3,000 stories.

Young collected those stories and copied them into 15 bound books that he and other protesters delivered to church spokeswoman Caso, who received the books. She was asked to give one to each of the members of the LDS Quorumof the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency.

"We condemn any inappropriate behavior or abuse regardless of where or when it occurs," Caso said. "Local church leaders are provided with instructions regarding youth interviews and are expected to review and follow them."

“A caring, responsible spiritual leader plays a significant role in the development of a young person by reinforcing the teaching of parents and offering spiritual guidance. We express gratitude for the thousands of volunteer church leaders—men and women—who selflessly serve and mentor youth, individuals and families throughout the world. As with any practice in the church, we continually look for ways to improve and adjust by following the Savior in meeting the needs of our members.”

Protect LDS Children held a rally prior to the march, where speakers included those who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, as well as licensed therapists who said a professionally trained counselor is in a significantly better position to talk to a child about sex.