SALT LAKE CITY — Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told members of the faith Saturday that abuse was “a grave sin” that should not be tolerated and would bring God’s wrath upon the perpetrators. .
Though the leader of the nearly 17 million-member faith did not mention it directly, the comments were the first about abuse by a top church leader since The Associated Press published an investigation into how the church handles reports of sexual abuse. when they are presented to you. .
“Let me be perfectly clear: Any kind of abuse of women, children or anyone is an abomination to the Lord,” said Nelson, who is believed by members of the faith to be a prophet, in Salt Lake City at a church conference. .
The AP investigation found that the hotline the church uses to report abuse may be misused by its leaders to divert accusations from law enforcement to church attorneys. The story, based on sealed records and court cases filed in Arizona and West Virginia, revealed a number of concerns, including how church officials cited exemptions to mandatory reporting laws, known as clergy-penitent privilege, as a reason not to report the abuse.
Since its publication, the church has said the investigation misrepresents its policies, while underlining how its teachings condemn abuse in the strongest terms. Historically, influential members of the church have fought legislative efforts to close the loophole that exempts clergy from the mandatory reporting requirement. The church has not said whether it will fight reforms lawmakers plan to propose next year.
Historically, the church has used its biannual conference to set a tone for its members, reflect on current events, and announce changes in doctrine. Nelson’s comments on Saturday echoed statements the church has issued since the publication of the AP investigation: condemning abuse and defending church policies.
“For decades, the Church has taken extensive steps to protect, in particular, children from abuse,” said Nelson, the 98-year-old church president, sitting on a stool behind a conference center reading and imploring the listeners to investigate church politics. themselves.
Nelson described the abuse as “adversary” influence, employing a term the church often uses to describe forces that oppose the gospel and its teachings.
Amid the church’s insistence that the reports misrepresent its sexual abuse hotline, Nelson also said “the adversary” worked “to blur the line between what is true and what is not true.”
Anti-racism was also a focus of the opening day of the conference, which is broadcast to church members around the world.
Todd D. Christofferson, a high-ranking church official and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, acknowledged that for much of the church’s history, it has been dominated by white Americans, but noted that its membership has steadily diversified.
It has been “long prophesied,” Christofferson said, that the church would have “members from every nation and tribe and tongue.”
“We cannot allow any racism, tribal prejudice, or other divisions to exist in the Church of Christ in the last days…As our church population becomes increasingly diverse, our welcome must grow ever more spontaneous and warmly,” he said.
The church has long had a history of treating people unequally based on their race. It did not give black members full access to church rituals or priesthood rights until 1978, 14 years after the Civil Rights Act.
Christofferson’s comments came after, for the first time in church history, a black woman spoke at the conference. Tracy Y. Browning, who was appointed earlier this year to a women’s leadership panel focused on families and children, devoted her remarks primarily to spiritual matters, imploring listeners to expand the role of Jesus Christ in the lives of she.
In recent years, the church has expanded its partnerships with US-based groups like the NAACP and focused on growing its ranks on the African continent, where it has 5 open temples and 17 planned or under construction.
Ronald A. Rasband, another high-ranking church official, spoke of “flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon” and recounted how he met with and gifted the book to leaders in Lesotho and Mozambique.