A Latter-day Saint stake president in Pennsylvania no longer faces a charge that he failed to report or refer suspected child abuse.

The Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office withdrew the criminal complaint Friday that had charged President Rhett Hintze of New Cumberland, Pannsylvania, with not reporting suspected child abuse allegedly committed by a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2000.

The church praised the decision in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes allegations of child abuse very seriously and complies with child abuse reporting obligations,” church spokesman Sam Penrod said. “The Church has stood behind Rhett Hintze from the time this case was filed and appreciates the vigilant efforts of the district attorney’s office to thoroughly review the case, which has resulted in the charges against him being dismissed. President Hintze complied with the law and supported the victims through the legal process.”

“We are relieved and gratified that the Dauphin County District Attorney has withdrawn the charges filed against Rhett Hintze,” Hintze’s attorney, James T. Clancy, said in a statement provided to the Deseret News. “It is clear from the facts of the case that the charges against Mr. Hintze were not warranted. Mr. Hintze has always been vigilant about the protection of children from abuse of any kind.”

Related
Church calls charge against Latter-day Saint stake president ‘misguided’

Police said Hintze learned about the abuse more than 20 years after it happened while serving as stake president. The information came from two sources — a confession by Shawn Cory Gooden and discussions with the man who says he was 12 years old when Gooden allegedly took him and his brother on a camping trip to French Creek State Park in 2000 and assaulted him.

After Gooden revealed the abuse to Hintze, the stake president approached the victim. Now an adult, the victim asked Hintze to keep the matter confidential, Clancy said.

“Mr. Hintze immediately consulted with legal counsel,” Clancy said. “Under the circumstances, a report to law enforcement was not required. As such, and honoring the adult victim’s request, no report was made.”

Hintze guided the victim to report the abuse to law enforcement, Clancy said. The report led to Gooden’s conviction in Virginia, where he is serving a prison sentence for child sexual abuse of the victim in that state.

Virginia officials contacted Pennsylvania police about the alleged abuse related to the camping trip in 2000. Gooden, 49, was charged related to those allegations, and the prosecution is ongoing.

Clancy praised the district attorney for withdrawing the charge against Hintze, which was filed in January.

“District Attorney Fran Chardo’s decision reflects his office’s thorough and professional review and consideration of the facts of the case, while also respecting the wishes of the victims of the tragic acts that occurred more than 20 years ago,” Clancy said.

Chardo determined the prosecution “was not in the public interest,” according to a news release issued by the district attorney’s office.

“Law enforcement authorities consulted with the family of the victims of the pertinent child abuse,” the release said. “The victims are now adults. The victims and the victims’ families requested the withdrawal of the charges.”

“We applaud District Attorney Chardo for his shared commitment to vigorously protect children from abuse, and we appreciate the careful consideration he gave to this matter,” Clancy said.

The Church of Jesus Christ called the charge misguided when it was filed in February and said it would vigorously defend Hintze.

Police said Hintze, who as stake president oversees more than half a dozen congregations, is a mandatory reporter of abuse under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law because he is a religious leader.

But like most states, Pennsylvania law carves out an exception for information clergy learns through privileged communication often known as priest-penitent privilege.

“Confidential communications made to a member of the clergy are protected,” the law says.