The Bishop **Trigger Warning**

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“During a visit to Utah, I went to a friend’s small party. A 20-year-old guy I had never met was paying me a lot of attention and offered to show me how to do “stuff.” (I was 16.) I had no idea what I was doing, and thought we had had sex, but later found out that I was wrong. He only fondled me. I didn’t understand that wasn’t sex.”

“Back home, I told a guy what had happened. He told some people and made fun of me. One of the people he told was a girl I went to church with. 

“The following Thursday was a Young Women’s presentation called New Beginnings. Afterward, the bishop called me into his office and said, “You understand that as bishop heavenly father talks to me?” I said yes. “You understand that if you lie to me I will know because heavenly father will tell me?” I said yes. “Are you worthy to attend the temple?” I said I’m only 16, I’m not old enough to go to the temple. He seemed angry. He was sitting behind his big wooden desk with his hands clasped on top and with each answer his knuckles turned white. 

“He said, “You are 16 so you know right from wrong. You know there are things girls shouldn’t be doing. You know your chastity is the most precious thing you have and should be protected above anything else. Our prophets have taught you this. If you have sinned and your chastity is no longer pristine the only way to be forgiven is to tell me as your bishop.” 

“He paused as if waiting for me to speak. I was so scared. I was in shock. I couldn’t speak and all I wanted to do was run. His face was turning red and I could see he was tensed. Then suddenly there was a knock on the door. I guessed it was someone not realizing he was busy. He continued to stare at me and said, “I’m trying to give you a chance here.” I was so confused and so many things were going through my mind. How could this be happening? How could he know? God must hate me for not protecting my birthright and now I was never going to go to the temple because I was forever unworthy. 

“Then there was another knock on the door. Normally he would have gotten up and poked his head out to send the disturber away but he didn’t. He said, “Answer the door.” Still confused, I got my shaking legs under me and opened the door. Standing there was the girl from my school. I suddenly realized what was going on. He invited her in and I sat back down. He said, “Now do you have anything to say?” I looked at him then back at her and then back at him. The look on my face must have been something to remember because under his mask of flatness he seemed to be enjoying my torture. 

“He continued to sit with his hands clasped on top of the desk. I said, “I don’t understand.” He looked to the girl who seemed to want to hug me or something and all I wanted to do was run. He said, “Kim (not her real name), please tell her what you told me.

“Kim then proceeded to tell the rumors she had heard. But it was as if she had been trusted with a secret truth. As she spoke, I looked back to the bishop and it was clear he was accepting every detail as hard evidence. I realized nothing I was going to say was going to matter. She clearly thought she was doing me a favor and he was enjoying watching me squirm and all I wanted was for it to be over. I waited for her to finish and leave. She didn’t. He said, “So now do you have anything to say?“ I still waited a second for her to leave. Why wasn’t she leaving? This was private. Bishop interviews aren’t supposed to have spectators …or narcs for that matter. 

“Fine. Before I could realize what I was doing, or the implications of it, I told him it was all true. Every word. Most of it WASN’T. Most had been embellished for laughs at school by the boy. I just wanted out of there. I couldn’t breathe and none of this felt right. Confessing was supposed to feel better wasn’t it? Not this! He then instructed me that Kim was being a good friend, and I was not to tell anyone about her involvement. He told her she could go. When she got up she stood in front of me and put her arms out for a hug. I let her and as she hugged me she said, “There now. It will all be better for you now.”

“As she left I went to follow her, hoping it was over. The bishop said, “We aren’t finished. Sit down.” I contemplated running, but knew I had nowhere to go. This was the bishop. A man of God. My parents had sustained him just as every other member of our ward had. I had no one to go to. I sat down. He seemed calmer now. More in control. I wasn’t.

“He spoke. “For now, I’m not going to involve your parents because I suspect there is more that you need to admit to, and until I have it all, I’m not ready to break their hearts about their precious daughter. The things you have done are comparable to murder in the lord’s eyes, and until you address it all with me you cannot serve others. You would be robbing them of the blessings. You will be released as Laurel president, you cannot take sacrament, and you cannot offer prayers. You and I will need to meet each Sunday after church. I can only assume that you masturbate.” At this, his lip curled a little as if disgusted. “So that needs to stop and if you do I need to know, as well as any other sins you continue to commit.”

“It was all so matter of fact. There was no kindness in him. He almost seemed to be relishing my pain. Everything I had been told about confiding my sins to the bishop was so wrong. There was no love there. No patience and understanding. This man of God believed me ruined. I couldn’t know how much worse it would get.

“Over the next 6 months I had to meet with him and tell the story over and over. Every Sunday after meetings I was always the last one to be seen. I had to sit next to his office door as members of the ward came and went. Some would ask why I was sitting there. Others wouldn’t look at me. On more than one occasion the bishops hands left the clasped position on his desk and were in his lap. I could see that he was moving his arm back and forth. Sometimes the motion would speed up. 

“On one occasion he had me sit in the chair to the side of his desk. He had me repeat the story yet another time and when I got to the part where the guy fondled me, he said he didn’t understand what I meant. I said he touched me under my underwear. I don’t want to remember this next part. I don’t want to carry it. He said I was being evasive and that repentance requires specifics. His right arm was on his desk and his left on the arm of his chair. I didn’t understand what he wanted from me but I felt sick. 

“He said, “If you don’t know what to call it, point to where he touched you.” I remember feeling like I might suffocate and starting to shake. I remember crying as I pointed to my pubic area. He moved his hand to his lap, to his crotch. I could see what he was doing all those times. Caressing himself. I was mortified and I couldn’t do anything to make it stop. I wanted to run but my legs wouldn’t work. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t and I couldn’t make a sound. 

“He acted like nothing was wrong. He simply responded to me pointing at myself. He shook his head and said, “I’m sorry but that’s not enough.” How could it possibly get worse? “I need you to mimic what he did.” Without touching myself I moved my hand up and down over the area. Silently I was praying this was enough — that he wouldn’t need more. His hand moved more aggressively and then suddenly he stopped. 

“He said nothing about what he had done. He continued to speak while he was touching himself, none of which I heard, and when I realized he was still speaking, he was saying that chastity was something precious and I should treat it as such. He said he was trying to decide if he was going to excommunicate me. I was blown away by this. I had done everything asked of me for six months. I cooperated with every instruction no matter how disgusting it made me feel. He said he was going to have to fast and pray and hopefully he could let me know next week, but the Lord could not be rushed.

“Over those six months my parents noticed I wasn’t taking sacrament, and that I was refusing to say prayers. They often asked why and I told them what I was instructed to say, that I was working on something with the bishop and I would tell them when he instructed me to. As time went they grew less and less satisfied with this answer. 

“The day the bishop touched himself I must have been visibly upset. Those months I had clearly sunk into a depression and was sleeping and crying a lot — but that day I think my parents finally grasped how wrong things were. After church they came to my room and begged me to tell them what was going on. I started to try the same lame put off, but I couldn’t. I told them what I had done, or what I thought I had done. She explained that I hadn’t had sex. It was fondling. She was still pretty upset but they were both more upset at the bishop for how he handled it. They didn’t know about all the ick. Just that he had Kim in the room initially, and that he didn’t correct my confusion about my “sin.” 

“The following Sunday my father protected me for the first and only time in my life. He marched with me into the bishop’s office and angrily set him straight. My father demanded that my disfellowship end immediately and that it be removed from my record. The bishop tried to argue that I had transgressed. My dad said he knew all of that and that I had more than repented. 

“The bishop caved — I think out of fear that the rest of his behavior was on the verge of coming out. I know the disfellowship wasn’t removed from my record, as my friend’s father was the ward clerk and warned my friend to stay away from me because I would corrupt them. 

“I have carried all this with me for so long. I carried the weight of the bishop’s words and the questions he asked me. The humiliation he put me through. He remained as bishop for a number of years after that. Long enough to excommunicate my older brother and to continue to make me feel small every chance he got. 

“After my best friend committed suicide, the bishop came to me and told me my friend was now in hell. My life spiraled out of control from there. Other memories of other abuses came back and depression and what I now know is PTSD set in. I am now 37 and finally working through it all. I officially left the church in 2009 after 3 suicide attempts and years of self destructive behavior. I am much happier these days but am still fighting the beliefs I was taught about my worth. 

“I battle anxiety attacks, social anxiety, flashbacks, severe depression, and hyper-vigilance, among many other symptoms. I am disabled as I have an exaggerated startle response which when triggered has sent me into full flashbacks at work. I am progressing towards some semblance of “normalcy” with the help of an amazing therapist.”

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8 responses »

  1. Wrong dates. He was the stake President then. He’d have bishop for six years before that. Mission president and then MTC district president. Same thing happened to many of us back then.

  2. OHDEARGOD, I’m soooooooooooooooooooooo incredibly sorry you’ve had to deal with this, and yet so wonderfully relieved that you’re in therapy, away from the church, and on the road to recovery. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It’s so very timely and important, and those of us who can relate are infinitely grateful. Much love and warm thoughts, Regina

  3. Sorry to hear this. It’s crazy that these types of things happen soooo often in the mormon church and never get publicized more. Hope you are healing. I’m currently leaving the mormon church.

  4. Oh and to add-while I attended BYU-Idaho one of my roommate decided to tell one of the deans that I was having sex with my boyfriend(now my husband) even though I really wasn’t…none of her business anyway…and this dean(who is still there) believe her word because she came forward first. This dean also was a complete sicko. Looking back I wish I wouldn’t reported him but I didn’t think anything of it because I was younger and naive and scared. He was asking me if I ever had oral sex with my boyfriend and that the “boys” tell him that it feels just like real sex. He asked me this over and over. All of this took place in his office with the door closed. How inappropriate.

  5. Thank you for your comments. I’m sorry you had to experience such clear ecclesiastical abuse like I did. It is so prevalent among the Mormon church and religion in general. When anyone is given power over others without repercussions for abuse of power there will always be those who abuse it.

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