SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church issued a statement Thursday in the wake of media reports emerging of a mission president’s misconduct several years ago in Puerto Rico.
Philander Knox Smartt III, an attorney from Alabama who had served for less than a year as president of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission, was removed from his post in early 2014 for unspecified conduct with missionaries. A mission president presides over an area and the missionaries who serve there for the church.
“This is a tragic and heartbreaking case of deception and betrayal that has impacted many lives. When church leaders learned of what had occurred, the mission president was immediately and dishonorably released from his position, sent home and excommunicated from the church. The victims, as adults, chose not to pursue criminal charges,” Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement released Thursday morning.
“The mission president was replaced by a General Authority who was sent to minister to those who had been affected. The sister missionaries who had been deceived and victimized were provided with ecclesiastical and emotional counseling, which continues to be offered to this time. The wife and family of the mission president have been assisted by the Church with the legal, emotional and personal consequences resulting from the immoral and sinful behavior of one man.
“We continue to ask members and leaders to embrace those harmed by such tragic situations with love, help and the hope available through Jesus Christ,” Hawkins said.
Beginning in early May 2014, Elder W. Craig Zwick — then an LDS Church General Authority who has since been given emeritus status — served as interim mission president in Puerto Rico for two months, joined by his wife, Sister Jan Zwick. Elder Zwick had presided previously over the Chile Santiago South Mission; as a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, he had served as an assistant executive director in the Missionary Department.
Then in July 2014, President Bruce Boucher and Sister Rebecca Burton Boucher, of Holladay, Utah, began their three-year tenure presiding over the San Juan mission.
The Puerto Rico San Juan mission includes not only the U.S. territory island of Puerto Rico, but also the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica.
“We feel profound sorrow for what each of these women has experienced. It is particularly heartbreaking that they have suffered because of the actions of a man who should have been a trusted priesthood leader. As followers of Jesus Christ, we want to do all within our power to both alleviate suffering and prevent abuse," Hawkins said.