Churches are supposed to be sacred, safe places where people can go to find guidance—both for everyday problems and during the hardest times of their lives. Unfortunately, some church leaders value the reputation of the church over the safety of its members. In certain congregations, this has allowed child sex abusers to slip through the cracks and take on positions of power.
A Case Study: Repeat Sex Offender Becomes Mormon Church Leader
Take, for example, the case of Michael Adam Davis, 34, who was Elders Quorum President at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in Kasson, Minnesota. In 2019, members of the local congregation discovered his status as a lifetime registered sex offender in Utah. They did not learn this from other church leaders, however.
“The congregation only learned of Davis background when he was charged in March 2019 with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy whose family were members of the church,” FOX 9 reported.
The first domino would fall during a routine traffic stop, per FOX 9. The Dodge County Sheriff’s deputy who pulled Davis over became suspicious, as Davis was transporting a 13-year-old boy from his congregation. When the deputy ran his license, he discovered that Davis was a registered sex offender a few states over.
Later, the boy would admit that Davis had sexually assaulted him multiple times. The boy claimed that Davis had also tried to rape him.
Davis was charged with indecent exposure and four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first and second degree, according to FOX 9. He has yet to be tried in criminal court, however, and has a possible plea bargain on the table.
“That would fit another pattern with Davis,” wrote Tom Lyden, FOX 9 reporter. “He also got plea bargains when he was charged in Utah with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy in 2003 and exposing himself to a 13-year-old girl with cerebral palsy in 2005.”
A plea bargain is, for those unfamiliar with criminal cases, when a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to have other, more severe charges dismissed. This allows the defendant to avoid a harsher sentence. On the other side, the prosecutor is able to secure some sort of penalty—usually, a prosecutor will agree to a plea bargain in cases that lack evidence. Sadly, child sex abuse cases are often hard for prosecutors to prove in criminal court.
Churches Have a Legal, and Moral, Duty to Protect Their Members
When religious leaders use their power to sexually abuse those in their church, the church has a moral and legal responsibility to step in, investigate, and report the abuse to the authorities. If they choose to protect the abuser instead of their members (especially those who are children), they must be held accountable.
The Mormon church is not exempt from this. Its church leaders should have done a criminal background check on Davis to ensure that he could be trusted to hold a position of power. Unfortunately, they relied on church records and “personal discernment.” They also ignored certain red flags.
As reported by FOX 9, Kasson Church President Brent Larson had become concerned over Davis’ relationship with one victim, calling it “inappropriate” in a previous harassment order. Still, he didn’t take action. This echoes what happened in Utah.
In 2003, Davis had groomed an 11-year-old Utah boy, earning his trust then exploiting it to expose himself to the child somewhere between 10 and 20 times.
“We had approached our bishop about it,” the mother said, speaking about Davis’ abuse of her son. “But he said, ‘please don't go, talking to a lot of the neighbors about it because we don't want somebody coming up with false accusations.’”
Church leaders continue to claim that abuse is not tolerated within the LDS. That simply doesn’t seem to be the truth.
“The church’s number one priority is, to quote, ‘protect the good name of the church,’” said Sam Young, a former bishop who was excommunicated for speaking out against certain church practices. “They're not out to protect the victim.”
Finding Help After Clergy Sex Abuse
At The Zalkin Law Firm, we handle child sex abuse cases through the civil justice system. To date, we have successfully litigated numerous high-profile (even global) clergy sexual abuse cases.
We know that sexual abuse by a religious leader can feel like the ultimate betrayal. Many abused as children often feel as though their childhoods were stolen from them. It can, therefore, be very difficult to speak up about what happened.
If you have been the victim of abuse, our compassionate attorneys are here to listen without judgment. We empower survivors, and we are proud to advocate for them. When you are ready, we are right here to fight for you.
Call (800) 477-2989 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation. We advocate for survivors from coast to coast.