The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it will vigorously defend its Harrisburg Pennsylvania Stake president against charges that he allegedly failed to report a 23-year-old sexual abuse case.
President Rhett Hintze, 53, of New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, is charged with one count of failure to report or refer child sexual abuse allegedly committed by a former Latter-day Saint bishop at a Pennsylvania state park in 2000, according to a Pennsylvania State Police press release.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints works actively to prevent abuse,” church spokesman Sam Penrod said in a statement. “Our hearts ache for victims of abuse, and the church is committed to addressing such incidents wherever they are found.
“The church trains its leaders and supports their lawful efforts. The charges now brought by local prosecutors for failing to report the abuse are misguided and the church will vigorously defend him.”
Hintze is scheduled to be arraigned Friday before Dauphin County Magisterial District Judge Wendy Grella on a single count of failure to report or refer child abuse.
“It would be inappropriate for me to provide any comment at this point,” Hintze’s attorney, James T. Clancy, said Thursday in an email to the Deseret News.
Members of Grella’s staff told the Deseret News they couldn’t share charging documents with the media because Hintze won’t see them himself until the hearing.
Hintze has been president of the Harrisburg Stake since 2018.
Police said Hintze learned about the abuse while serving as stake president from two sources — Shawn Cory Gooden, 49, who is in prison in Virginia for sexually assaulting two child relatives, and the man who says he was 12 years old when Gooden took him and his brother on a camping trip to French Creek State Park in 2000 and assaulted him.
Latter-day Saint policy requires two adults to be present for every youth activity and for classes for children taught by men.
The alleged victim reported the abuse to police in 2023.
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.
Hintze has been the Harrisburg stake president since September 2018. He also is the chief operating officer of Bravo Group, a public relations firm that specializes in strategic communications. A Bravo employee told the Deseret News that Hintze has been placed on leave.
Hintze earned a bachelor’s degree in business/finance at Brigham Young University and a master’s in public administration at Syracuse University.
Charges against Gooden for allegedly sexually assaulting the 12-year-old boy in the state park in April 2000 have been on hold since Gooden was sentenced in November to 2.5 years in separate child sexual abuse cases in Virginia.
Gooden is serving his sentence in a prison in Manassas, Virginia, after he pleaded guilty in July 2023 to sexually assaulting two child relatives between January 1997 and December 2000. One victim was between the ages of 9 and 13 and the other was between 8 and 12.
Virginia investigators contacted Pennsylvania State Police in September 2022 to say their investigation had uncovered information about the abuse of a boy in Pennsylvania.
Gooden was arrested that month. Gooden now faces 19 felony and misdemeanor charges related to sexual assault of children in Pennsylvania in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas.