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Sex Offenders in Pews: Who decides how sex offenders worship?

Religion

A woman seeking help sparked a conversation online about sex offenders at church.

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A woman posted a question to social media, asking for help in determining how a registered sex offender should be allowed to participate in Sunday services. 

The post says in part, “My husband is a newly-called Bishop and was told by the Stake President to counsel with me about how to approach the fact that a sex offender just got out of jail and is starting to attend our ward.” Terms like ‘Bishop’ and ‘ward’ are used within the context of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She goes on to ask if congregation members have a right to know if there is a sex offender attending with them. 

Through the sex offender database, anyone in the United States has the right to know if there are sex offenders living near them. Sex offenders are restricted from going near public or private schools, public parks, and public pools, but there is no legal restriction for places of worship. 

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou is the executive director at Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources, a nonprofit organization that has provided training to local congregations on sexual assault and restorative justice.

She said, “We want [the offender] to come to church, we all need faith and hope and that’s what church gives us, but we also have to be very careful of that grey area. There can’t be a set policy that works for every situation. There are resources out there; no religious leader, no organization should think that they aren’t going to have this problem. Before there is a problem reach out and get the education for the people that you care about.”

Research says that the sex offender database is not perfect and the majority of sex crimes go unreported. The last line of defense is always education.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou says, “Parents need to teach tools and skills. My mother taught me that I had an imaginary circle around me and I didn’t have to let anyone inside if I didn’t want to. Just those age appropriate tools that we can teach our children to keep them safe will make them safe adults.”

In response to ABC4’s request to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding training for local leaders, the Church responded saying that local leaders are given specific direction about any member with an annotation on their church record.

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