Richard Turley, managing director of the LDS Church's Family and Church History Department, acknowledged in November he had read excerpts of the journals as part of an investigation to determine if they belonged to the church. The admission came during discussions between Utah State University and the LDS Church over ownership of some documents Arrington gave the school.
Days later, representatives of Utah State and the Arrington family announced resolution of the dispute, bringing negotiations with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a halt. Instead of the nearly 60 percent of the collection initially sought by the church, the agreement was for the university to return a mere half-box of documents to the Arrington family. The family then turned that material over to the church.
The LDS history department has since placed its microfilm copy of Arrington's journals in a "secured facility" to which neither Turley nor his staff has access.
Carl Arrington said he is disappointed with the church's "apparent breach of the deed" signed by his father, who died in February 1999.
"If the church can't abide by the agreement, the microfilms and all copies of his diaries should be immediately returned to the family," Arrington said in a telephone interview from his New York home.
Archivists interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune said there are no hard-and-fast rules for handling so-called sealed or restricted documents, and one, in fact, agreed with Turley's interpretation.
Turley told The Salt Lake Tribune that his staff routinely reads restricted materials donated to the church's archives and makes copies for the department's internal use.
"The term 'restricted' means restricted from the public," Turley said. "If you are talking about doing it internally, I don't think that would be unusual." In Arrington's case, though, the historian specified on an Aug. 25, 1982, acquisition sheet documenting the gift that "use of [his] diaries and Xeroxing and duplication of same is restricted to everyone until 25 years past the death of the donor."
Arrington did not sign a section of the document allowing an exception to the church's staff. Instead, he wrote in "No. I assign no rights to the Historical Department."
Neither Utah State University officials nor George Daines, attorney for the Arrington family, would discuss the church's handling of the journals. Daines said Arrington's journals, which USU will make available to the public in 2009, don't contain "some big bombshell."
"I haven't read Arrington's journals. But Susan [Madsen, Arrington's daughter] has reviewed them and hasn't found anything that might be troubling [to the church]," he said.
While Arrington was the church's historian from 1972 to 1982, he surrounded himself with professional historians and student interns who published hundreds of articles for church magazines, research papers and books. But several church leaders challenged Arrington's work as not being sufficiently faith-promoting.
A historical department official, whom Arrington later referred to in his memoirs as a "spy," regularly examined the group's publications, highlighting "controversial" paragraphs and forwarding them to church leaders. The pages were placed in a special file on "questioning liberals" kept by church security, according to Arrington.
Eventually, LDS Church leaders dismantled Arrington's team and released him from his position as church historian. Arrington continued writing Mormon history to the end of his life, documenting his experiences in his journals; he produced one journal each year until his death.
He gave the church a microfilm copy of the journals and donated the originals to USU, in both cases restricting access for years--a decade for the university and 25 years for the church.
Policies governing access to restricted documents vary, archivists say. David S. Zeidberg, director of the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., said restrictions placed by donors typically apply to the public, not library personnel.
Other archivists, however, say restrictions often do apply to library staff. "The simpler the restrictions the better, because it gets confusing," said Charlotte B. Brown, archivist at the University of California, Los Angeles, which has a large film and television collection. "But if donors feel they have a good reason to restrict something from library staff, we'll abide by their wishes."