Two days after the October 5th March to End Child Abuse, I had a conversation with the current bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward in Salt Lake City, UT. In August of this year, his ward and stake were rocked by a very public scandal. The prior bishop, Steven Murdock, was arrested for photographing a woman undressing in a clothing store’s changing room. At the time of the arrest, the former bishop was serving on the stake high council.
As a result, the current bishop began to rethink the application of church policy regarding interviews with children. The normal practice is to have one-on-one meetings where the child is asked about their sexual practices. This good bishop had concerns about this protocol. He also wanted to follow the instructions from in Handbook 1 which contains directives from the apostles.
The Olympus 8th ward bishop studied the handbook, consulted with his stake president and called the Church’s bishop helpline. With the new understanding he gained, the bishop has proceeded with a program to “normalize” the practice of always having a parent or other trusted adult in the room during meetings with children & youth. The only exception will be if a child initiates the interview and desires to meet alone. This will eliminate the vast majority of one-on-ones. Questions relating to sex will be strictly limited to: ‘Do you live the law of chastity?’ Regardless of the answer, there will be no follow-up questions probing for further details. The new interview policy was presented at a meeting with all parents. It was well received. If the new protocol is successful in the Olympus 8th ward, it will likely be rolled out to the entire stake.
Here are the bishop’s own words regarding our discussion:
I appreciate your desire to protect children and youth. I also appreciate the leaders of the church for their same desire. The information that I shared with our ward did not come from me, it came from the church handbooks. What I have learned in the past 5 weeks is that the bishops really need to study these handbooks. We need to use all the many resources that are available to us to lead in a way that will bless and protect the sisters and brothers in our wards and neighborhoods.
There are several things in the handbooks that have been updated that add further protection for youth, women and all the members of the church. The church no longer prints the handbooks. I assume this is due to the rapid inspiration, hearing and listening to concerns from the membership of the church and making the adjustments that are necessary for our day.
This past general conference is another indication of these changes. If it appears that I am doing something different in my ward it is only because I have very recently, thoroughly studied the handbooks, consulted with my stake president and contacted the church bishop helpline and then shared what I have learned. There are many traditions and a general culture that are changing for the better as the Gospel of Christ stands unchanged. Normalizing the new information in the handbooks by teaching what is there will certainly protect the children and center much of the responsibility back to the parents and the home where it belongs.
I firmly believe that we are led by living prophets and apostles and that they are listening and learning as hopefully we all are. I am a follower and I believe in who I am following. I am teaching and carefully following what has been taught with hopes for a better safer experience for us all! I trust in and have faith in those who have dedicated their lives to this work.
I also respect all who have desires for goodness, kindness and love regardless of religion or nationality. We are all in this together. Being well informed by keeping up on the handbooks will keep us on the right track.
Oh boy, do I ever love what this bishop is doing! Eliminating one-on-ones & tightly limiting sex questions down to just one. Then, to be rolled out to an entire stake? Just WOW!
Over the past 2 years, at least 10 bishops have reached out to me, sharing that they completely support what Protect LDS Children has been calling for. These bishops have quietly implemented safer interview protocols in their own wards. However, none were willing to risk being open about it.
The bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward has done his due diligence and is willing to take action openly. He is also very emphatic in stating that he is not the author of this new protocol. It all came from church resources and leaders. Good for him.
I have read the most recent Handbook instructions regarding interviewing children. There are NO instructions that interviews should include 2 adults. The good news is that there is NO instruction that the interviews should be private, just between the bishop and the child. That is a change.
I wish to publicly commend the bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward, the stake president of the Olympus Stake and the church bishop help-line for coming together to end one-on-one interviews and explicit sexual interrogations of children. At least in one ward. The very first ward.
Take heart my child-protecting comrades. We are winning the battle. One bishop, one ward, and soon, one stake at a time.