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Mormon church helps keep child sex abuse cases hidden from scrutiny

HAILEY, Idaho (AP) — Paul Rytting listened as a woman, voice quavering, told him her story.

When she was a child, her father, a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had routinely slipped into bed with her while he was aroused, she said.

It was March 2017 and Rytting offered his sympathies as 31-year-old Chelsea Goodrich spoke. A Utah attorney and head of the church’s Risk Management Division, Rytting had spent about 15 years protecting the organization, widely known as the Mormon church, from costly claims, including sexual abuse lawsuits.

Rytting had flown into Hailey, Idaho, that morning from Salt Lake City, where the church is based, to meet in person with Chelsea and her mother, Lorraine.

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City is shown on April 18, 2019. A top Mormon church official learned a former bishop had made a religious confession to details about his relationship with his own daughter when she was a child. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

After a quick prayer, he introduced himself and said he was there “to look into” Chelsea’s “tragic and horrendous” story.

Chelsea and Lorraine had come to the meeting with one clear request: Would the church allow a local Idaho bishop, which in the Mormon church is akin to a Catholic priest, to testify at John Goodrich’s trial? Bishop Michael Miller, who accompanied Rytting to the meeting, had heard a spiritual confession from Chelsea’s father shortly before John Goodrich was arrested on charges of sexually abusing her.

While the details of his confession remain private, the church swiftly excommunicated Goodrich.

Audio recordings of the meetings over the next four months, obtained by The Associated Press, show how Rytting, despite expressing concern for what he called John’s “significant sexual transgression,” would employ the risk management playbook that has helped the church keep child sexual abuse cases secret. In particular, the church would discourage Miller from testifying, citing a law that exempts clergy from having to divulge information about child sex abuse that is gleaned in a confession. Without Miller’s testimony, prosecutors dropped the charges, telling Lorraine that