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.
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.