Rites and Wrongs - Alleged Abuse in the Mormon Church

Sunday Star Times

August 9, 2008

BOSS IS dead. The Southland bull mastiff had to be put down after he became aggressive, says his owner, Ora Tautari. She says her pet's behaviour changed after becoming another victim of Raphael Caccioppoli, who was last month sentenced in Invercargill to five years' jail on 13 indecency, sexual and violence charges.

These, involving mostly young boys and a teenage man, were committed while Caccioppoli was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) or Mormons. According to Tautari and several other sources the Sunday Star-Times has spoken to, Caccioppoli, a lawyer and justice ministry judicial officer, was sent south from the North Island by the church and made a Sunday school teacher. He was invited to live with the family, a common practice within the church, after he befriended Tautari's husband.

The Mormon temple in Temple View, Hamilton.

Tautari is angry that North Island church leaders never let on they knew Caccioppoli had sexually abused boys in the past. They never told her family when they first opened up their home to him and they didn't tell the parents of the Sunday school children he taught.

She is particularly disgusted that, even though he was excommunicated from the church for his offending in June 2007, several members were in court to support Caccioppoli at his sentencing. She struggles to comprehend how the church could show concern for his welfare and yet apparently show none for the children they knowingly let him be with.

Almost as soon as he arrived, Caccioppoli started causing problems between the couple, Tautari says. He continued to live with the family, however, even after LDS Social Services finally contacted the Invercargill church in March last year and warned it about Caccioppoli.

Tautari says he minimised his offending, telling church members he would sometimes wake up and find himself fondling his victims, as though it was a mistake.

Judge Robert Wolff criticised the church's poor effort to handle Caccioppoli's offending internally. "I would like to encourage churches in these circumstances to not endeavour to deal with these things in-house. They are ill-equipped to do so and there are better and wiser courses to follow." If Caccioppoli's offending had been "acknowledged in the appropriate place", some of his later offending may not have occurred, Judge Wolff said.

Defence counsel Bill Dawkins said Caccioppoli had disclosed details of his offending to his offending to his church as early as one month after he committed an indecent act on a 12-year-old boy in 1998. The church had held "many" meetings with Caccioppoli, and in August 2005 he was told the matter was "resolved", Dawkins said.

A few months later Caccioppoli arrived in Southland.

Now Tautari, a 31-year-old Mormon wife and mother of four, is divorcing her husband, whom she says insisted Caccioppoli be allowed to live in the family home even after he acknowledged violating the dog.

She left in July last year with the help of Women's Refuge after she claimed she suffered domestic violence. When Tautari sought the support of other church women, she was told to "suck it up". "Three women said it was the same for them and that it was their role. One said she hates her husband but continues to stay."

LIKE MOST churches, LDS is not immune to scandal or suggestions that its strict rules on the likes of premarital sex and alcohol, rigid hierarchy and prescribed gender roles are sometimes hard for its members to live up to.

The church, some of whose members in its early days practised polygamy, has also been tainted by offshoots refusing to give up countenancing multiple and underage brides. In 1992 the worldwide head of the church, 91-year-old Gordon Hinckley, acknowledged child sexual abuse within his own church. Four years later, 82-year-old Merlin Deadman was sentenced in Hamilton District Court to a year's jail on nine counts of indecent assault on six women. Police said that between 1980 and 1985, Deadman portrayed himself as a qualified doctor and "manipulative therapist", practising from a surgery in his home in Temple View, Hamilton, a predominantly Mormon community and home to many of the country's 97,000-strong adherents.

The church's strict behavioural code may be taking a heavy toll on members. Earlier this year Mental Health America, the country's oldest independent mental health advocacy organisation, ranked Utah the most depressed state in the country - 70% of its population is Mormon. Dr Curtis Canning, the former president of the Utah Psychiatric Association, was quoted in a news story reporting the state's high depression figure as saying that in Mormon culture, females are supposed to accept a calling. "They are to be constantly smiling over their family of five. They are supposed to take supper across the street to an ill neighbour and then put up with their husband when he comes home from work and smile about it the whole time. To be a good mother and wife, women have to put on this mask of perfection. They can't show their tears, depression or agony."

The reality, say local Mormon women who spoke to the Sunday Star-Times, is that when they seek counselling for abuse, they are usually called to show more faith in their husbands, through more prayer. To work harder to love and respect him more. If he says he has repented, the principles of the church have been met.

JANE IS one of those angry that the church didn't do more to protect her from abuse. She spoke to the Star-Times on the condition that we not reveal her real name or location.

It was the late 1960s and, until then, Jane had been brought up by parents whom she says were alcoholic and involved in crime. They'd attracted the attention of Mormon missionaries who made increasing visits to the family home. Jane says that in a misguided bid to get rid of the missionaries, her parents agreed to get baptised. But when both ended up doing time in jail, the church stepped in to offer her care. Jane says several foster parents, all from the church, used her as a sex object, repeatedly violating her and forcing her to perform oral sex on them.

One of the men was particularly abusive. In a statement to police she says: "I remember running away. I didn't have anywhere to go but I just decided I needed to run away. I took two things with me and I wished I'd used them. The first was a Book of Mormon, like a bible, the second was a razor blade. I was going to kill myself. I wanted him to kill me."

She also claims that, as a teenager, she was forced to have sex with two church members, and when she finally plucked up the courage to tell an elder, he violated her - in his church office. She told police: "He told Social Welfare that I'd recanted about the [men] having sex with me. I didn't at all. I wasn't asked or talked to. Social Welfare left it up to the church to look into it and they didn't even talk to me."

Jane, who is now in her late 40s, is a broken shell of a woman as she remembers her past. She still believes in God but has left the church and taken her children away from its influence, fearful that they too would become trapped in an abusive cycle.

A COUPLE OF hours south of Christchurch, another woman is preparing for life after the church - but for Monica, whose name has also been changed, it's the ultimate sacrifice.

She still believes the church and all that it teaches, is the best in the world. The mother of two doesn't drink or smoke, as the church requires, but is outspoken - a black mark in an institution that likes to keep its matters private.

Monica says she too is a survivor of domestic violence, suffered - she claims with the church's knowledge - at the hands of her ex-husband.

"He didn't beat me around the face. He used to throw me around the room, bang me against the wall, slam me into doors, slammed doors on me. He's tried to run me over with a car." He used to hold knives to her throat in front of their young son. He hit her while she was holding the boy.

She has hospital emergency department admission notes for two separate visits. In February 1997 she had her right hand x-rayed; in September 1998 her left foot was x-rayed. Both times she lied about the cause of her injuries.

She says she miscarried after one assault. "I went for a bath to ease the pain." Suddenly, she says, she passed blood and a small, perfectly formed foetus. Holding the tiny form she called him. "I got out of the bath and said, `Look. Look at this.' He took it from me and flushed it down the toilet."

Monica said she suffered several miscarriages during the marriage to a man who changed as soon as they were married. He had treated her well in their relationship until then. "His whole reason for marrying was to become a bishop. You can't be a bishop if you're not married." Temple marriage was for life and all eternity. "I was his property forever. He still thinks that."

She says she was told that a church court hearing found him guilty of wife-beating and of disposing of the foetus, but it allowed him to continue working in roles of authority and responsibility because it accepted he had "repented".

In fact it was Monica who was called to account. She was brought before the church court in 2004 - long after their marriage was over - to answer an allegation she had hit her ex-husband once. Monica immediately denied the charge: "I slapped him once. It felt so good, I slapped him again."

Monica says she has been ostracised by church members because she complained about the abuse. She was told if she shut her mouth and did what her husband told her to do, her situation would improve.

But Monica says she was only prepared to tolerate the abuse for so long - her marriage lasted just five years.

She called police after a violent episode in 1999. The police report said: "Physical violence is a problem for [Monica] who had previously been in hospital for injuries sustained during assaults." She asked police not to charge him.

Monica says police advised her to contact a lawyer and find out about protection orders. Six months later the defining moment came. "The day that I actually left he slammed me up against the lounge wall." He then spat on her and stormed out.

Monica said she found her son cowering under his bed crying: "Please don't hit Mum, Daddy. Please don't hit any more."

"That was it for me. I gathered up some clothes and food and we went to a lady's place and we rang Women's Refuge." They were there three weeks. During that time she found out she was pregnant with their second child.

Her husband went to anger management. A bishop counselled her to return to him and keep the family together. She prayed and she tried. "I was going to save our marriage, make myself safe and he will become a better husband."

They agreed to a four-month separation but when he again threatened her, she extended it to eight months. He told her he would marry again and seek custody of their children.

She has legal custody until they are 16.

Monica expects she will be excommunicated from the church for speaking about her experience, even anonymously, but she knows it won't dent her faith in God or her ability to live a good life. "It's time for the crap to stop."

It's difficult for Monica to remember and speak out about the violence. In 2002 she was found to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse. Psychologist Elizabeth Gutteridge's report, written in July 2002, scored her on the Impact of Event Scale at 61 - a score of 26 indicates a severe case.

"The post traumatic stress disorder examination conducted in April 2002 indicated [Monica] had severe symptoms - flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, heightened arousal, avoidance of stimulae that triggers memories. The traumatic events include physical violence and psychological abuse by her ex-husband.

"She continues to be afraid she will be controlled and possibly physically harmed (by him)..."

National church spokeswoman Melanie Riwai-Couch responded to the claims made by the three women with a statement: "The Church's principal concern now is the needs of the women to whom you referred. The invitation stands for them (always) if they would like to:

* Meet and discuss with their Relief Society President (the female leader in their congregation); or

* Meet and discuss with their minister; or

* Have access to an alternative leader away from where they live (if this makes them more comfortable); or

* Have a referral to LDS Social Services and the counselling service through the Church."

Riwai-Couch says male and female leaders in the church apply skills, experience and training they receive to address any instances of abuse. "By and large, the leaders deal effectively with the issues they face. Nevertheless, as imperfect people, there will be some instances that are not handled perfectly." She says the church regards the family as the most important unit in society. "Individuals who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfil family responsibilities, will one day stand accountable before God."

JANE, MONICA and Tautari have kept their belief in that God, even if their faith in the church has been badly dented by their experiences. They scoff at the concern the church has expressed and doubt it will acknowledge the severity of the offending, but know they can help others still trapped in lives of abuse and violence by giving them and their children a public voice.

Tautari has left the southern province to set up a new life with her four children. She says her faith is stronger than before, as she no longer has to seek the approval of what she calls "religious hypocrites" who try to stand between her and her God.

Monica is now happily married to a non-Mormon man. She loves to sing, something her former husband banned in the house, even when he wasn't home. On the lounge room wall she proudly displays two singing awards she has won.

Jane's eyes and voice remain empty of hope, but deep within there is a strength and courage that belies the desperation she feels. She has made a statement to police about her foster parents. She prays they will investigate her claims, that the predators who hid within the church will finally be brought to account.

Mormons in NZ

The first Mormon missionaries to come to New Zealand arrived in 1854 from Australia. The church says it made slow early progress in attracting converts, and many who did quickly emigrated to Salt Lake City, where the church was founded. Nevertheless, the rate of conversion was fast enough to convince the church to shift its South Pacific HQ from Sydney to Auckland in 1874. In 1880, church president Joseph F Smith instructed missionaries to concentrate on Maori. The church claims 97,000 members, many in Hamilton, where the missionary-built New Zealand Temple and Church College of New Zealand are located. Source:


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