April 08, 2002

The abuse of women, children and the elderly is a "tragic and disgusting phenomenon" and those who engage in it should repent, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley sternly admonished Mormon men Saturday.

"Any man in this church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her is unworthy to hold the priesthood," Hinckley said during the 172nd annual General Conference's evening session for the members of the LDS all-male priesthood. "In the marriage companionship there is neither inferiority nor superiority. The woman does not walk ahead of the man, neither does the man walk ahead of the woman. They walk side by side as a son and daughter of God on an eternal journey."

In remarks opening the two-day conference gathering Saturday morning, Hinckley said the Salt Lake City Olympic Games had been a boon to the LDS Church and he gave a progress report on an education loan program started last year.

But Hinckley's most pointed comments came during the men's meeting, where he strongly condemned the sexual abuse of children by adults, usually men. Alluding to recent allegations of abuse by Roman Catholic priests, the 91-year-old leader said "there has been some very limited expression of this monstrous evil" within the LDS Church.

Last year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints paid $3 million to Jeremiah Scott. The 22-year-old California man was sexually abused as a child by a church member in Portland, Ore., and alleged that LDS leaders knew of the potential for abuse but did nothing to stop it or warn his family. More than 40 other plaintiffs have sued the LDS Church in similar cases.

Child abuse "cannot be countenanced or tolerated," Hinckley told men in the packed Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and watching via satellites at LDS stake centers in North America.

In the morning session, Elder Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also used stern language about abusers.

"There is nothing in the scriptures, there is nothing in what we publish, there is nothing in what we believe or teach that gives license to parents or anyone to neglect or abuse or molest our own or anyone else's children," Packer said. "Among the strongest warnings and the severest penalties in the revelations are those relating to little children."

Hinckley, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by 11 million Mormons worldwide, added that men who engage in abuse are unworthy to hold temple recommends that allow them access to the faith's 107 temples.

Quoting from the church's Handbook of Instructions, given to LDS congregational leaders, Hinckley said that abusers are subject to church discipline, including excommunication.

The handbook states that even if an abuser repents, leaders should avoid placing the individual in a position working with children or youth unless the First Presidency has cleared his or her membership record. "In instances of abuse, the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse," he quoted the policy book as saying.

Hinckley said bishops, stake presidents and others handling abuse cases have access to a telephone hot line staffed by professional counselors, including lawyers and social workers, who can advise them on legal obligations.

"The work of the church is a work of salvation. It is a work of saving souls. We desire to help both the victim and the offender. Our hearts reach out to the victim, and we must act to assist him or her," he said. Hinckley also deplored the abuse of elderly people.

"I think it is not common among us. I hope it is not. I pray that it is not," he said.

The church leader was not apologetic for the negative, somewhat scalding tone of the priesthood address.

The priesthood, he said, is not a "cloak that we put on and take off at will. It is, when exercised in righteousness, as the very tissue of our bodies, a part of us at all times and in all circumstances."

On a lighter note, Hinckley said Utah played the perfect host for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and that news coverage of the LDS Church during the event turned out to be a "wonderful thing."

"Well, it all worked out," Hinckley said at the opening session of General Conference. "The visitors came by the hundreds of thousands. Some came with suspicion and hesitancy, old and false images persisting in their minds. They came feeling they might get trapped in some unwanted situation by religious zealots."

Instead, he said, they found scenic beauty, gracious hosts -- Mormons and non-Mormons alike -- and the spirit of the Games at its best.

LDS Church leaders made a "deliberate decision" to ask members to refrain from proselytizing during the Games, letting the Salt Lake City environs stand as their testament.

"Out of all this came something wonderful for this church. Representatives of the media, so often a tough and calloused group, with very few exceptions, spoke and wrote in language both complimentary and accurately descriptive of a unique culture they found here, of the people they met, and dealt with, of the spirit of hospitality which they felt," Hinckley said.

Hinckley said negative news coverage was minimal and the opportunities to meet with foreign leaders plentiful.

"Those visitors tasted the distinctive culture of this community. We believe that culture is worth preserving," he said.

In church-related business, Hinckley offered an update on the Perpetual Education Fund established a year ago. The fund is designed to give loans to members between the ages of 18 and 30 -- primarily returned missionaries -- who have limited means to finance education or vocational training. Hinckley said to date 2,400 people have received loans.

"In the years to come, thousands will be assisted in such places as Mexico, the nations of South America, Africa and the Philippines and wherever there is a need," he said.

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