Brock case raises issue of church's role in reporting crime - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Brock case raises issue of church's role in reporting crime

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Posted: Saturday, April 9, 2011 5:02 am

Of all the gifts displayed in a Maricopa County courtroom that Susan Brock gave to a teenage boy she was molesting - a diamond ring to give to his girlfriend, an Xbox 360, $100 pairs of jeans, $70 shirts - a gift she gave the boy's family stood out above the rest: A professionally framed black-and-white photograph of the Arizona Mormon Temple in Mesa under a dark, cloudy sky.

The image of the temple was symbolic of how Brock partially used philosophies of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints to seduce the boy: by making him feel guilty for what she told him was an "adulterous" relationship with her and that if he told, his parents would have him taken away.

That relationship, of course, did eventually come to the attention of the Mormon church. And, once the LDS became involved, it raised another difficult issue: What obligation, if any, does a church have to report criminal behavior to authorities if that behavior was told in confidence either through confession or confidential communication?

By law (ARS 13-3620), a clergy member "who has received a confidential communication or a confession in that person's role as a member of the clergy... may withhold reporting of the communication or confession if the member of the clergy determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion."

In essence, it can fall under the same protection as attorney-client privilege.

During Brock's sentencing on Thursday to 13 years in prison for three counts of attempted sexual conduct with a minor, prosecutors portrayed the Mormon church as complicit in concealing the crimes.

In October 2009, the victim's parents became concerned about Brock's fascination with their son and met with LDS church officials and Brock to discuss allegations of sex abuse, according to prosecutors. Brock denied any wrongdoing at the meeting.

The church became involved again in October 2010 when the victim's girlfriend intercepted a sexually-charged text message Brock sent to the boy. The girlfriend brought it to the attention of her parents, who then told the boy's parents about it. According to prosecutors, the boy's parents then told a fellow parishioner who was a former Chandler police officer that something needed to be done.

"If that girlfriend would not have seen that text message and told her parents about it, the relationship between Susan Brock and the boy still could be going on today," said Pinal County Deputy Prosecutor Jason Holmberg.

Robert DeFrancesco, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said clergy are not permitted under the Seal of the Confessional to disclose such matters directly or indirectly to civil authorities. However, when a member of the clergy receives a confession of a crime, they can encourage the perpetrator to stop what they're doing, turn themselves in to police or approach the victim or their family and inquire about such crimes and encourage them to go to authorities.

Kim Farah, a spokesperson for the LDS church, said that is precisely what happened in the Brock case.

"This matter was reported to the police when it was first disclosed to church authorities before Susan Brock confessed," Farah said in a statement. "One of the victims reported to the police as encouraged and facilitated by the church.

"Arizona law is clear that no priest can disclose any confession even when it concerns child abuse. Nevertheless, church leaders worked effectively within the law, and with those involved, to facilitate prompt reporting to the police while protecting the victim.

"It is absolutely false to suggest that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engaged in doing anything other than help bring the perpetrator to justice in this tragic case."

A Tucson-based attorney who has handled sex abuse cases for 25 years told the Tribune the LDS church should have reported the allegations of sexual abuse when they first came to their attention in 2009, not one year later when the text message evidence came to light.

"It's not a confession and it's not privileged information if there is more than one person or a group of people meeting with clergy or priests to discuss it," said Lynne Cadigan, who has settled many civil cases with the Catholic Diocese of Tucson. "They should have gone to police. It sounds like what they did is similar to what the Catholic Church did (when the priest scandal emerged). They would sweep all of their knowledge of the sex abuse under the alleged umbrella of confession so they could claim they had no obligation to report it.

"They clearly have a duty to report it," Cadigan added. "Any information that was reported during that meeting in 2009 should have been reported to the law."

Farah told the Tribune there was not enough evidence after the 2009 meeting to determine whether a crime had been committed.

Tim Eckstein, attorney for the victim's family, said the family was satisfied with how church officials handled the situation.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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