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Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: My ex abused our children, should I tell his bishop?


Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

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Q: I am recently divorced after many years of marriage. My ex-husband is emotionally abusive and has been physically abusive with both me and our children in the past. Very few people know the real him because he portrays himself as a righteous and caring man and adamantly minimizes or denies any abusive behavior. It's essentially my word against his since the abuse happened behind closed doors. However, I do have police and CPS reports that document his conduct. 

I know the Church has been increasing its efforts to protect children. I also know that when we are asked to sustain a person in a calling, we have the option to oppose if we feel there is a reason a person shouldn't serve. My ex-husband has a calling working with children. Should I contact his bishop to let him know about his history of abuse toward children? Should any ex-spouse report incidents of abuse to church leaders so that his or her former spouse is held responsible for abusive behavior? I have considered doing so in hopes that if he is disciplined by the Church then it might encourage him to get help and make positive changes for himself and our kids.

I'm not trying to get revenge, but I don't want other children as well as our own children to be abused while in his care. What should I do?

A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me with this. My heart goes out to you and to your children. No one should have to endure abuse. 

I understand you when you say you’re not looking for revenge. There is a difference between revenge and protection. There’s even a difference between revenge and consequences that may lead to repentance.

In my personal and professional opinion, you should contact your ex-husband’s bishop. Ask if he’ll keep your confidentiality if you’re merely passing information on to him. Assure him that you only need him to listen to your concerns rather than have him confide in you any conversations he’s had with your ex-husband. You’re not looking for him to betray your ex-husband’s confidence.

Tell him the history. Tell him your concerns. Ask him to prayerfully consider what you’ve told him. Confide that you’re concerned about ongoing abuse of your own children and potentially of children in the ward.

Your ex is more likely to lash out at your children than those of other people because it’s easier to lose control with your children and cover it up. Other people’s kids are more likely to talk and less likely to respect his attempts at authority, which could bring him trouble—unless, of course, we’re talking about sexual abuse, which involves more grooming, shame, and secrecy. That doesn’t mean, however, that the other children aren’t at risk of being abused, whether it’s something like harsh words on one end of the spectrum to actual physical harm on the other. The bishop should know.

And if your ex-spouse is continuing to emotionally or physically abuse your children, that is definitely grounds for Church discipline. You’re good for checking your motives, but please don’t hesitate to protect the innocent.

God bless you. I hope this helps.

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