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N4T Investigators: Tucson legislator introduces bill to have clergy report child abuse despite Clergy Privilege

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TUCSON (KVOA) - A horrifying case of child sexual abuse is making its way to the Arizona legislature.

Paul Adams a former Border Patrol agent admitted to sexually abusing two of his young children. He was arrested by law enforcement after he was identified in the illegal acts, he posted on the internet in 2017.

Adams, and his wife, Leizza, were indicted on multiple abuse charges in 2017.

He committed suicide before going to trial she was sentenced to prison and has been released.

Last month, Tucson attorney Lynne Cadigan filed a complaint against some of the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church Adams and his wife attended in Bisbee.

The complaint said the church knew about the abuse but didn’t call police.

Instead, opting to call their church helpline leaving the abuse of the children to continue for years after.

In a statement to the Tucson News 4 Tucson Investigators, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in part.

They have no tolerance of abuse of any kind. They urged the family to report the abuse or give the bishop consent to do so but the family refused and so the church worked to handle the matter appropriately consistent with Arizona law.

While clergy are mandatory reporters for child abuse, there is a significant exception, it's called Clergy Privilege.  

That is when clergy learn about the abuse in confidential communication.  Some legislators believe changing the law could be the states reaching into the church's business telling them what to do.

State Senator Victoria Steele a democrat represents District 9.   

"This is not about religion this is about religion this is about protecting children," Steele said.

The senator just introduced Senate Bill 1008. 

"If a member of the clergy knows a child is being sexually abused and they have reason to believe it is continuing, they have a duty to report it even if they learned that during a confidential communication," she said.

This is the second time Steele has introduced this bill.

She did this last year, after learning about the sexual abuse involving the daughters of Paul and Leizza Adams in Bisbee and how the church officials were aware. 

"That is horrific, that is inexcusable and I don't care who you are," she said. "You should not be able to keep that secret and allow that child to be continually abused."

For Steele, this is personal.

"I have a long history of being sexually abused as a little girl," the senator said. "It's painful to talk about."

She said it is that pain and trauma that is giving her the strength to "turn it around and use them to make sure this doesn't happen to any other little girl or boy."

Lynne Cadigan represents the children in the case.  

She said she admires and respects Steele.  

"I don't think the statute goes far enough,” Cadigan said.

Cadigan is no stranger to sex abuse cases. She's represented victims for over three decades.  

"As we all know, the Catholic church, Mormon church, they've been concealing sex abuse for years.  We need to abolish the Clergy Privilege and protect the children."Cadigan said. "The church's religious freedom to keep sex abuse a secret does not outweigh a baby's right to be free from rape.”

Steele told News 4 Tucson she has received a ton of support for this bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

However, the Senate still has to vote on it and then the process begins all over in the House of Representatives.  

Below is a statement that was sent to the News 4 Tucson Investigators last month.

When contacting their attorneys for this story church, officials said they don't have more to add than what was said in the statement they previously sent.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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. 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 will continue to offer assistance to these young victims.”

Sam Penrod
Media Relations Manager, Church Communication Department
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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