The newest member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' top governing body said every faith — including his — must do more to protect victims of sexual abuse and help facilitate a healing process.
Last month, Patrick Kearon, 62, became the first new member since 2018 named to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the body which oversees the business interests and global development of the faith widely known as the Mormon church.
Speaking to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Kearon, who was raised in England and converted to the faith as an adult, outlined the global, compassionate approach he would take on a range of sensitive issues from the border crisis to the LGBTQ community. He was particularly emphatic on how he would like sex abuse victims to be cared for by the church.
“There is no question in my mind that the abuse of a child or the deliberate abuse of anyone is the most heinous crime and must not be tolerated in any form,” he said. “We must all be much better — regardless of which religious group or denomination — in caring for those who have been victims of those crimes heal, and move beyond just surviving that ordeal.”
An AP investigation found that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ sexual abuse reporting hotline can be misused by its leaders to divert abuse accusations away from law enforcement and instead to church attorneys who may bury the problem, leaving victims in harm’s way. The Utah-based faith has stuck by the system despite the criticism and increasing scrutiny from attorneys and prosecutors who argue it is inadequate to quickly stop abuse and protect victims.
Kearon didn’t speak specifically about the hotline, but said the church does have protocols for reporting these crimes, which must be observed.
“We must deploy everything we can to help those who have been mistreated in the most dreadful ways, heal," he said. "There has been a lot of progress made in this regard, but we need to get better. "
Sex abuse incidents have such catastrophic and lifelong impacts on victims that there is little room for slip-ups, Kearon said.
“Even if one person slips through your fingers in terms of trying to help them heal, it's a disaster,” he said.
Kearon, who many have described as a rising star in the church, filled a vacancy in the church's top governing body that was created by the death of M. Russell Ballard in November. Members serve lifetime appointments under the church president and his two top counselors.
Born in England, Kearon has lived and worked there, in Saudi Arabia as well as in the U.S. in various industries including health care, food, transportation and communications. After joining the church, Kearon served in several leadership roles of increasing importance.
Raised in the Anglican Church, he converted on Christmas Eve in 1987 after what he describes as a “two-year journey of learning" that was peppered with doubt, cynicism, even disbelief. Even though his parents prayed at home, the family attended church only during Christmas and Easter or for special events, he said.
Kearon said he appreciates the “gentle foundation” his upbringing gave him because it allowed him to welcome faith as a driving force later in life when he fully understood that it was strong belief that made Latter-day Saints joyful and positive.
He sees his global background as relevant because the church is growing faster globally than it is in the U.S. Last year, the church announced that it reached 17 million members worldwide by the end of 2022, which reflects a 26% increase in convert baptisms compared to the previous year.
“That trend is going to continue,” he said, adding that having served and lived in different parts of the world helps him think globally about issues that might only seem to affect one region or one country.
Kearon extends his perspective of a global church to issues such as immigration, which is contentious in the U.S. with a presidential election looming. He is well known for his 2016 speech urging compassion for refugees fleeing war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa.
As a faith leader, while he understands the role of borders, Kearon said he believes in the idea of kindness, inclusion and welcoming the stranger.
“Our father in heaven does not see borders,” he said. “Wherever his children are, we should should be loving them.”
He extends the same message of empathy when it comes to the LGBTQ community. The faith believes that while having feelings of same-sex attraction is not a sin, acting on it is.
“It's important to try and understand others because we are all children of God,” he said. “That takes work, and is not easy. But, when we look at these issues through a clear, simple lens of our belief, that really helps.”
Kearon also emphasized that there should be no room for radicalization or nationalism in this faith.
“Any type of radicalization, as it's most commonly expressed, brings problems,” he said. “Wherever we are in the world, we need to be a healing force in our communities and follow Jesus Christ's invitation to love our neighbors.”
AP journalist Brady McCombs contributed to this report.
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