Religion • One says decriminalizing polygamy might embolden people to report abuses.
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A group of fundamentalist Mormon communities on Thursday issued a statement denouncing polygamous leader Warren Jeffs, who is on trial in Texas for child sexual assault.
Jeffs the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was found guilty Thursday of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl after taking them as plural wives.
The Principle Rights Coalition (PRC) representing five polygamous churches, along with others who practice polygamy but are unaffiliated with any church called the sexual abuse of children "reprehensible."
"As new evidence has surfaced in Texas ... we are alarmed that such depravity could have been perpetrated by anyone," according to the statement.
"While we understand that horrific abuse can occur in any part of society, it is especially devastating to discover that sexual assault of young children may have occurred behind the false pretense of a religious ideology," the statement says. "Those who commit such crimes must be held accountable. If any members of our communities are in fact guilty, we fully support their being brought to justice."
The PRC added that the reports of abuse "illustrate the necessity of decriminalizing plural, consenting-adult relationships, while convicting those specific individuals who have victimized children."
"In some cases, years of isolation and secrecy may have cultivated and concealed abuse, since those who might ordinarily have come forward feared the threat of prosecution should their plural family arrangement be disclosed," the PRC statement says.
An accompanying statement by the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) said they were "shocked and horrified" by what has been revealed during Jeffs' trial.
"While we share common religious origins and history with the FLDS, we are and have been keenly aware of many of Warren Jeffs' radical religious deviations and abuses of power under the false pretense of priesthood authority," the AUB release says.
"We repudiate and denounce Warren Jeffs' inappropriate actions in linking his despicable and unconscionable acts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to Joseph Smith Jr. and Mormonism," the statement continues. "Such acts and so-called ordinances are not and never have been condoned by the Gospel as it was established and restored by Joseph Smith."
A national support group for clergy abuse victims also weighed on the Jeffs conviction, calling it " a victory for common sense, common decency and children's safety."
Joelle Casteix, western regional director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, commended the Texas jury for not being "swayed" by Jeffs' "self-serving claim of 'religious freedom.' "
"No one can be above the law, even those who cloak themselves in some kind of self-professed 'faith,' " Casteix said in a news release.
The sentencing phase of Jeffs' trial continues this week and possibly into next week.