The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responding to an online petition which claims some LDS bishops are interviewing children and teens about sexual matters.

Sam Young is a former LDS bishop. He says he’s currently an active member of the Church in Houston. Young started an online petition which has more that 7,200 signatures asking the Church to stop one-on-one interviews on morality with kids and teens.

Young’s petition claims there are reports of bishops and other church leaders asking children as young as eight questions of a sexual nature which consequently leads to suicides, sex abuse, and self loathing.  He says he’s brought the issue up with local church leaders and hopes top church leaders will stop the practice.

The Church responded to the petition saying in part, “Personal interviews are an important part of ministering to those in a congregation,” the statement went on to say, “[Bishops] are counseled to not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions, but should allow a young person to share their experiences, struggles or feelings.”

To view the full petition click here.

Full statement from the LDS Church

Personal interviews are an important part of ministering to those in a congregation. They offer an opportunity for a leader to know an individual better and to help them live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Leaders are instructed to prepare spiritually so they can be guided by the Holy Ghost during these interviews. Leaders are provided with instructions in leadership resources and are asked to review them regularly.

Interviews are held for a number of reasons, including for temple recommends, priesthood quorum or Young Women class advancement, callings to serve in the Church or when a member requests to meet with a priesthood leader for personal guidance or to help them to repent from serious sin.

For youth, a bishop meets with a young person at least annually to teach, express confidence and support, and listen carefully. These interviews should be characterized by great love and the guidance of the Holy Ghost. They speak together about the testimony of the young woman or young man, their religious habits (such as prayer, church attendance and personal study of the scriptures) and their obedience to God’s commandments. They may review together these teachings in the scriptures or other Church resources, such as For the Strength of Youth.

In these interviews, Church leaders are instructed to be sensitive to the character, circumstances and understanding of the young man or young woman. They are counseled to not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions, but should allow a young person to share their experiences, struggles and feelings.

There are times when a discussion of moral cleanliness is appropriate—particularly if a young man or young woman feels a need to repent. In these instances leaders are counseled to adapt the discussion to the understanding of the individual and to exercise care not to encourage curiosity or experimentation.

Church leaders have a solemn responsibility to keep confidential all information they receive in confessions and interviews. When a young person is faced with serious sin or temptation, a bishop will likely encourage them to share (as appropriate) their struggles with their parents so they can pray for, teach and encourage the young man or young woman.

When a Church leader meets with a child, youth or woman, they are encouraged to ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer or hall, and to avoid circumstances that may be misunderstood.

If, during an interview, a leader becomes aware of incidents of abuse, they are directed to call the Church’s 24-hour help line to seek guidance from professional counselors and legal professionals in how to identify, report and respond to abuse. The leader may also refer them to professional counseling services, as needed.

When counseling with parents, leaders encourage them to remain close to their children, to regularly teach and counsel with them, asking questions about their growth, progress and worthiness. This allows leaders to act in a supporting role to the family and individual. Our belief is that interviews should be meaningful and sacred opportunities for an individual to counsel with priesthood leaders, who represent the Savior in their ministry.

-Eric Hawkins, Spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints