Lawsuit: LDS Church officials, teacher knew of abuse but kept silent

The Arizona Republic/December 1, 2020

By Mary Jo Pitzl

A lawsuit filed Monday charges that two Mormon bishops and a teacher failed to report a Bisbee father's repeated sexual and physical abuse of three of his children, despite a state law that makes reporting such offenses mandatory.

It argues that the "clergy-penitent privilege" in the law, which keeps confessions confidential, does not apply to such cases. The teacher, a former border-patrol agent as well as the children's Sunday school teacher, had a clear duty under the law in both of her roles to report the abuses to police, the suit alleges.

"Each of the Defendants had personal observations of the abuse, and also knew of the abuse outside of any confidential communication," the complaint, filed in Cochise County Superior Court, alleges. The father's abusive practices were discussed by church officials in routine meetings, and led to his excommunication in 2015 after church officials learned of his abuse of his daughter, then age 5.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three of the six children of Paul and Leizza Adams, details Paul Adams' repeated sexual abuse of his daughters over a seven-year period, including the rape of his infant daughter. Paul Adams was indicted on 11 counts of child sexual abuse in 2017 and was awaiting trial when he hanged himself in his prison cell later that year.

For more stories that matter, subscribe to

Leizza Adams, the mother, was convicted for child abuse in 2018 and was released from Perryville state prison in early October, state records show.

The children have since been adopted by various families and have different last names than their parents.

The suit names the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as well as the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church.

In a statement Monday, an attorney for the church, Bill Maledon, wrote:

"This tragic abuse was perpetrated by the young victims’ own father who died of suicide in jail while awaiting trial. As clergy, the bishop was required by Arizona law to maintain the confidentiality of the father’s limited confession. Notwithstanding, the bishop took the few details he had and made efforts to protect the children, primarily through the mother. The bishop urged the family to report the abuse or give him consent to do so, but they refused. The bishop also convened a church disciplinary council and condemned the limited conduct he knew of in the strongest terms by excommunicating Mr. Adams from the Church in 2013. It was not until law enforcement made an arrest of the father that the bishop learned of the scope and magnitude of the abuse that far exceeded anything he had heard or suspected. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its clergy worked to handle this matter appropriately consistent with Arizona law. It has also tried to assist the victims and remains willing to commit significant resources to aid and assist these children. The Church has no tolerance for abuse of any kind. Our hearts ache for all survivors of abuse and go out to the victims in this case. The Church will continue to offer assistance to these young victims, but the Church will also vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit."

Other defendants are John Herrod, who served as bishop of the Bisbee Ward from 2009 to 2012, and his successor, Robert Kim Mauzy. It also names the medical practice that Herrod ran. Herrod was the Adams family's doctor.

Also named is Shaunice Warr, a former agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where she worked along with Paul Adams. She also was a member of the church and was appointed by the church's Relief Society to be a visiting teacher to the family, the lawsuit states.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos