Should the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints background check volunteer clergy?

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Three men across the country have been charged in recent weeks for sexual crimes against minors and they have one things in common: their position within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided them access to their victims. Some are asking the question, would a background check have prevented the abuse?

The Church does perform background checks, but only in states and countries where they are required by law. In Utah, Texas, and Minnesota they are not and in at least one of these three recent cases, a background check could have spared a child. 

The first of three men charged for sexual abuse is Sterling Van Wagenen the co-creator of Sundance Film Festival and the director of multiple temple videos for the Church. He claims through audio recordings published by Truth and Transparency that he admitted to the sexual abuse of a child in 1993 to Church leaders and to police but was never charged. On April 2nd, he was charged here in Utah for a new incident of sexual abuse that happened between 2013 and 2015 to a seven-year-old girl. 

The second man is 34-year-old Michael Adam Davis, currently living in Minnesota. Davis was convicted with two felony’s here in Utah in 2006 for sexual abuse of a minor, but still police report he was made Elders Quorum President, a position of trust within the local congregation. He was charged and arrested on April 3rd. 

While researching his story, ABC4 News found that Michael Adam Davis is not on the sex offender registry in Utah, Minnesota, or the national registry despite his conviction for sex crimes. A simple search could not have protected his latest victim, but a background check would have uncovered his two felony convictions and could have kept him away from children. 

The third man is 22-year-old Noel Anderson, a sunday school teacher for 7 and 8 year-olds in his local congregation. Police reports said Anderson admitted to sexually abusing four children and selecting ones who he believed would not tell. He was arrested March 24th. CBS DSW in Dallas reported that his investigation began when a child saw a picture of Anderson and said, “I don’t like that man.”

The Church said in a statement regarding how they vet their volunteer clergy:  “[local leaders] conduct a thorough interview and review church records to ensure there is no known record or concern of church discipline or annotation for serious moral misconduct. They also rely on their personal experience with the individual and their judgement of his character.”

National background checks cost about $25 to process. 

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