Hundreds march to demand LDS Church end ‘worthiness interviews’ with children

SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds marched through downtown Salt Lake City to demand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints end the practice of one-on-one interviews with youth.

Police estimated more than 800 marched up State Street from the Salt Lake City & County Building to Temple Square on Friday afternoon. Organizers then presented LDS Church officials with a 55,000 signature petition calling for an end to "bishop's worthiness interviews."

"My son is dead because the church will not address this!" said Brian Bresee, who claimed his son committed suicide in the aftermath of one such bishop's interview.

An image from SkyFOX showing hundreds marching through downtown Salt Lake City to protest the LDS Church's practice of "Bishop's worthiness interviews." (Mark Johnson, FOX 13 News)

The group Protect LDS Children, which organized Friday's march, said LDS ward bishops have conducted the one-on-one interviews behind closed doors to determine a child's worthiness within the faith to enter into temples or participate in some church services. Some questions have gone beyond simple questions of faith to deeply personal inquisitions about sexuality.

Some have alleged it led to them being abused.

"Let the millstone not be hung around your neck. Don’t let what happened to me happen to children for generations to come," said Robin Day, who asked LDS church representatives to deliver to the church's First Presidency a book of personal stories of people who said they have been harmed by bishop's worthiness interviews.

Irene Caso, a representative of the LDS Church's Public Affairs Office, accepts a petition calling for an end to "bishop's worthiness interviews." (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"I'm story No. 489," said Val Christensen as he handed off a book of personal accounts. "I lived this."

The march comes as the LDS Church has faced a sex abuse scandal at its Provo Missionary Training Center. A woman has alleged she was raped by a former MTC president, and the church has said it is looking into whether there is a second potential victim. The LDS Church recently announced some changes to its bishop's interview practices, including allowing another person to be in the room.

"Next Sunday when church resumes its normal schedule, children are going to be harmed again," Protect LDS Children's Sam Young told FOX 13.

"Taking a child behind a closed door grooms them for pedophiles," he said.

Sue Krupa Gray said what the LDS Church has done so far has not been enough.

"You cannot take baby steps," she said, fighting back tears. "It’s time, people. It’s time! The greatest test of everybody’s faith is religion, and this religion has not been faith promoting. It has not been kind and this is not going away."

Demonstrators hold a sign during a protest against "bishop's worthiness interviews." (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

As people chanted "no more closed doors," Mormon church representatives met the demonstrators outside the Church Office Building, shaking hands and thanking the crowd for coming. After Friday's event, the LDS Church issued a statement.

“We share a common concern for the safety and wellbeing of youth. We condemn any inappropriate behavior or abuse regardless of where or when it occurs. Local Church leaders are provided with instructions regarding youth interviews and are expected to review and follow them," the church said, adding:

“A caring, responsible spiritual leader plays a significant role in the development of a young person by reinforcing the teaching of parents and offering spiritual guidance. We express gratitude for the thousands of volunteer Church leaders—men and women—who selflessly serve and mentor youth, individuals and families throughout the world. As with any practice in the Church, we continually look for ways to improve and adjust by following the Savior in meeting the needs of our members.”