Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adding to political moments that will live in infamy

Let's say you served several consecutive terms in your state's legislature, left to run for Congress and, after losing your congressional bid, returned to your state's legislature and rose to become the leader of the majority party. Beyond that, you are a respected businessman and a leader in your church, a past pastor of a local congregation and, after that, being called to the next level of leadership. Then, on the last day of the most recent legislative session, you stand up before the House, after the governor speaks, and admit to being naked in a hot-tub some 25 years ago with a 15 year-old girl, though you state, in Clintonesque-fashion, that "there was no physical contact, there was no touching, there was no intercourse, there was none of those things." At the time of the hot tub incident you were 30 years-old, married with children and in business for yourself. In fact, this young woman worked for you and had been in a Sunday school class you taught several years before. You further disclose that while you were running for Congress, this woman, who is now grown, threatened to disclose the incident and the grooming that led up to it. In response, you, through your attorney, enter into a legal confidentiality agreement and pay her $150,000.00 to remain silent. What do you suppose the reaction of your fellow lawmakers would be; silent shock, whispered murmurings, indignation, calls for you to resign? Well, if you were in Utah, it would merit you a standing ovation.

Apparently, members of our state legislature find taking advantage of a minor, lying about it for 25 years, paying her off to be silent, then tearfully confessing when she starts to go public about it courageous. For demonstrating such resolve in the face of controversy, Rep Kevin Garn, (R) Layton, was lauded by his colleagues on the last day of our state's annual legislative session. Who knew courage could be so self-serving? The woman, Cheryl Maher, who is now talking about the incident, is saying that Garn groomed her for this hot-tub encounter, which, according to her, involved alcohol procured by Garn, which he gave her, and that there was contact. She said that Garn "likes to massage." In a weird twist, while Garn never graduated from college, he is a graduate, though years after the hot-tub incident, of the Utah College of Massage Therapy. In addition to being Republican majority leader in the Utah House, Garn has also served as a LDS bishop and stake president.

Fellow lawmakers console massage therapist Kevin Garn after his tearful confession of sorts, photo from the Deseret News

Bishops in the LDS Church are similar to pastors in that they lead the local congregation, called a ward, though on an unpaid, part-time basis. A ward is the LDS equivalent of a parish. A stake is the next level of organization above a ward and consists of several wards and perhaps a branch or two (a branch being the LDS version of a mission, except that it is independent of a ward and falls directly under the stake) that are located, at least in Utah, in a pretty small geographic area. A good question, posed by one LDS commenter in response to the first story I linked to, is how many LDS Church disciplinary councils (known more commonly as a church court) did Garn preside at where the conduct was similar to his own, or not even as bad, say, like this kind of behavior that occurred between consenting adults who were not spouses? A LDS disciplinary council occurs when a member is credibly accused of or admits to egregious behavior, like having an extra-marital affair, or even pre-marital relations. The disciplinary council determines what actions the church will take, like to excommunicate or disfellowship, etc. There is no doubt that any admission of hot-tubbing with no clothes on with a member of the opposite sex who is not your wife, let alone a minor, would have resulted in a disciplinary council for Garn and, at that time, almost certain excommunication. There remains the fact that this behavior was illegal, even at the time it occurred. This also brings up the sheer hypocrisy of having a self-admitted sex offender passing laws dealing with sex crimes.

To make it worse, the Deseret News, which, along with the Salt Lake Tribune, is a major newspaper in Salt Lake City, knew about these allegations back in 2002, when Garn was running for Congress, but decided not to run the story because, according to the newspaper itself, he didn't win. He lost in the Republican primary. Their reason for not running it when Garn sought re-election to the Utah House was their belief or knowledge of the legal agreement entered into between Garn and Maher. I am not a lawyer, but I can't imagine it would be illegal to print what had been previously gathered and to state that a confidentiality agreement had subsequently been entered into by the parties. It does bear mentioning that the Deseret News is owned by the LDS Church and, under its current editor, Joe Cannon, who formerly chaired the Utah Republican Party, is self-consciously a LDS newspaper.

Now, let's try to put this into some perspective. I do not do so with the intent of downplaying anything. This kind of behavior on the part of an adult toward a child is grossly immoral and rightly felonious. So, think about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, many instances of abuse consist of no more than what Garn and Maher describe took place between them. I have in mind here the confirmed allegations made by former U.S. Representative Mark Foley of Florida, who went on to have to his own troubles with minors, against a Catholic priest. Again, to be clear, any instance like this is wrong, gravely immoral, and rightfully illegal! According to Maher, she reported this to LDS church leaders at the time, like their bishop, who did nothing, not even notifying the police. Failure to notify the police of such an accusation, thanks to tougher laws, no doubt supported by Garn, is now a criminal offense in its own right and rightfully so. Had their bishop notified the police, Garn would have been arrested, charged, and since we know by his own admission that he was at least in the hot tub naked with her, likely convicted. Today he would be required to register as a sex offender, but instead he is being lauded by his fellow legislators for his courage.

While I am outraged, I am not without sympathy or compassion for Garn, but I take exception to him playing the victim. In light of his years of hypocrisy as both a church leader and a legislator, Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant is sticking in my mind (Matt. 18:21-34). I thought long and hard before posting on this. I am truly beside myself that, according to the Tribune, the Speaker of the Utah House, Dave Clark, said after Garn's tearful admission, "I know not of the man you speak of, but I know the man I consider a friend, a leader and an asset to the State of Utah and I would ask our fellow colleagues that our hearts might be open." Clark went on to say "We hope you would remain with us." After these words Garn was treated "to a standing ovation from the representatives and applause and shouts from those in the gallery." For this bit of bad political theater, Speaker Clark and the Utah House of Representatives owe Cheryl Maher, all people who have been sexually victimized by adults as children, and the citizens of Utah a public apology. Adding to the weirdness, this occurred in the same week that it was announced that Brian David Mitchell, who kidnapped and abused Elizabeth Smart, having been found mentally competent, will stand trail beginning 1 November.

Another part of my judgment to write about this stems from my dissatisfaction with what I have read in both Salt Lake newspapers, which have failed to put this into proper perspective and have not grasped how wrong it is to blame the victim. I am also unhappy with the double standard being applied vis-à-vis the religious angle, not to mention that the Deseret News seems to be more concerned about salvaging its journalistic integrity, which has to be called into question in light of all this. Finally, too many commenters on the D News website see Garn as the victim, even to the point of calling Maher an extortionist who should be jailed.

UPDATE: It is being reported this morning that Kevin Garn has resigned his House seat. A step in the right direction, but in light of everything only one step of several needed to correct this bizarre and sad episode brought about by a man who still seems to be a (largely unrepentant) manipulator. He may also be facing charges for violations of election laws for failing to disclose his $150,000 pay off to Maher in 2002.

UPATE 2: In addition to saying how Garn's abuse has affected her life very negatively, Cheryl Maher contends that Garn's relationship with her was long term and that there were others with whom he was involved. Adding more fuel to the fire, Maher also contends that she contacted the Salt Lake Tribune in 2002. They, too, did not run the story. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised in the least that the fourth estate continues to fail us. This failure, not the advent of blogging, is their downfall. How about good, hard-nosed, objective reporting instead of infotainment? Undoutedly, there will be more to follow, but you won't read about it here.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

3 comments:

  1. I need to respond but am having difficulty putting thoughts to words in a succinct manner. Hence, this is longer than intended, my apologies. Whatever happened to responsibility, both acknowledging a wrong done and taking actions to fix it or make amends for it? Too engage in a moment of hyperbole, will we start stoning the victim next as well. I find it terribly disheartening, especially as I am too familiar with cultural and legal systems surrounding this issue as well as the devastation it can cause. Men (and some women) carrying less guilt are forced to bear the sex offender stigma that destroys their lives yet another can find himself applauded. I only hope lady justice has gone deaf as well as blind.

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  2. Hey there Scott, how are you my friend? It’s been awhile, aye? I really enjoyed your article concerning Garn. In my opinion, whether it’s the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, or any group for that matter, it always amazes me when organizations cover stuff up like this. I just think that if they expose it, and deal with it from the start, not only will justice be served more quickly, but credibility will be restored much faster as well. Also, it’s not fair to the overwhelming majority of good and decent leaders who get painted with the same broad brush when things get covered up. It reminds me of the ‘I didn’t inhale’ statement from President Clinton. I always felt that if he would have admitted it from the get go, it would have blown over very quickly and he would have gained respect from all of us sinners immediately! I mean, we all knew he inhaled, and we probably didn’t really care that much, but because we knew he was lying, he was made a laughing stock and I always had a hard time believing him in the future.

    Anyway, that was a long winded intro to the comment I wanted to make about the Garn fiasco. I replied to an article on a Deseret Newspiece with the following and wanted to post it on your blog to let you know a few of my thoughts on the matter. However after reading your article, I amended a few things from the original post in the following somewhat ‘animated’, nevertheless serious, response:

    ‘I have a teenage daughter, and if her sunday school teacher, or anyone for that matter was naked in a hot tub with her, and gave her a massage, he's getting a beating, and knowing my bishop, he'd throw one in as well and excommunicate him on the same day. Shame on Garn and those church leaders that dealt with it the way they did! However, after a good beating (I mean a GOOD one), time in jail, full investigation and prosecution of possible previous acts, total, sincere, FULL repentance over time, I say, put him on the paedophile watch list and let him crawl back under the slimy rock he came from. I must say though, I think she should stop the gold digging, ‘cause it doesn't look good on her part. I’m one of those guys that feels that excessive monetary compensation/attention weakens the sincerity of a cause, at least to a certain extent. She already received $150,000, Garn's been nabbed and exposed, as long as the above justice measures are carried out, and she gets some proper professional help, in my opinion, game over. By the way, the applause from the legislature made me sick, in fact, it’s hard to imagine that it really happened?’

    Let me know your thoughts, take care my friend, Anson in the UK

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  3. It is truly great to hear from you. I was excited when your Twitter popped up. I agree that it does not matter under what auspices such behavior occurs. I only wish this were true of our local news media, who seem to be employing a double standard. What you say about not covering it up is a lesson that many Catholic dioceses have learned the hard way. As a member of the clergy it is absolutely incumbent upon me to report abuse like this, not just through church channels, but in the case of child sexual abuse and other obviously abusive behavior to the police, too. Now, there are instances where clergy are covered by confidentiality, but you can't hide behind that in an instance when the victim comes to you and tells about what happened. To wit: if a 15 year-old girl came to me and told me about something like this, I would talk to her for minute and try to make a quick assessment that what she was saying was credible, then she and I would call the police. Only after that would we start working things in the church. Even in cases where confidentiality might come into play, like if it is the perpetrator telling you this under certain circumstances, you have to try to get the person you are counseling to do the right thing.

    Just as every member of the Catholic clergy is not a child molester, the same is true of the LDS Church, too. In both cases far from it. The reason for so many victims is that one abuser has many victims. It would not surprise me if other young women came forward, as Maher has urged them to do, and tell about their relationships with Garn.

    I would have to say that I am not in favor of vigilante justice. As tempted as I would be, I would forego the beating. I am quite sure that Garn is the one who offered cash for silence. Her immediate concern back in 2002, it seems, was not letting him get elected to Congress. Running against a really good guy, our friend, Rob Bishop, saw to that. Besides, what price do you place on a young person's innocence? Her most recent speaking out does not seem to be financially motivated at all. It comes after her own excommnication for the LDS Church and seems to be part of her recovery program.

    I have yet to see either the Trib or the D-News castigate the Leg for their buffoonery. It was a travesty to let Garn give his self-serving speech on the House floor. It was even more disgusting that he spoke after the governor, who is a good and decent man. He should've been made to call a news conference and face the media. I have no problem with members of the Leg letting Garn know after his admission that they are still his friends and being concerned about him, but what happened was an outrage.

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