In this episode we discuss what happens when religions or religious people praise abusers in front of their victims.

In April 2017, Keith Robert Vallejo, a Mormon bishop, was convicted of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, involving two women – who were both staying at his home at the time of the rape/abuse.

During his sentencing hearing in Provo, Utah, Fourth District judge Thomas Low (who is currently serving as Mormon bishop of the Valley Hills First Ward of the Heber City Utah North Stake), praised Vallejo as a “an extraordinarily good man” in front of his two victims.

You can hear his full statement here:

In today’s Mormon Stories Podcast episode we are interviewing Ashlie.  Ashlie currently attends a Mormon ward where a former bishop who has abused two separate victims who were both ward members.  He was convicted of rape for the first offense has been fully reintegrated into the ward at the expense of his victims (who also remain in the ward).  According to Ashlie:

  • After the former bishop served time in prison, wealthy ward members pooled a large amount of money to have his name removed from the sex offender’s registry.
  • He has been reinstated with full membership status back into the ward, and is currently serving as seminary teacher and as a high priest teacher.
  • Many ward and stake members have not been informed of his former abuses.
  • The victims and their families have been marginalized by the ward and stake for not being more “forgiving,” and for not “understanding the atonement.”

Today we will be discussing Ashlie’s perspective on the impact of protecting abusers at the expense of the abused, along with how this has impacted her own faith journey.  Ashlie’s stories includes:

  • Her conversion to the church.
  • Her temple marriage that ended in divorce
  • Her inappropriate excommunication for drinking alcohol
  • Her rebaptism into the church by Bishop Mark McConkie (Colorado Spring)
  • Her re-marriage (elopement, then temple sealing)
  • Her experience in a ward where three successive bishops were excommunicated
  • Her “shelf breakers” and faith transition (which happened only a month ago).

This episode includes a beautiful shout-out to Kristin Marie (Bennion), so check it out!

Part 1

Part 2

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Part 2:


  1. Q May 2, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Thank you for discussing the idea that forgiveness is not the same as restoration of trust. I don’t think this idea is in any way incompatible with the values of the church, but I’ve never heard it preached over the pulpit and I think it really should be. Instead, I’ve heard too many examples of the opposite, even cases where church leaders use the doctrine of forgiveness to counsel abused wives to stay with their abusers.

  2. Anon May 2, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    John, this young girl is a perfect example that the Millennials are much smarter than the Leadership could predict.

    All of your podcasts are enjoyable to listen to but this one was great. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Doubting Thomas May 3, 2017 at 8:48 am - Reply

    Mormon leaders are typically the most unqualified ecclesiastic leaders and are any of us surprised at that fact? Doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, business owners filling the roles of counselor, confidante, and spiritual leader? Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t, and if your really lucky you never have to find out.

    Here’s some advice I gave my children after watching them navigate growing up in Mormonism, and as a former bishop and YM President, helping other young people deal with Mormon doctrine: Don’t EVER see a bishop for ANYTHING. If you have a challenge that you feel the Lord needs to know about then pray to God and work it out. If you ever have any other challenge come to me.

    If you haven’t heard this cliche than this is for you… The perspective of Mormon leaders is like spinning a roulette wheel. You never know where the little ball is going to land, but the odds are you are going to lose.

    One of the most disturbing pieces of audio I have heard was that judge commenting on the convicted rapist and crying while reading the sentence in front of the victims. Let’s hope he’s released soon… From the bench and from his calling.

  4. Scott May 3, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Ashlie, thanks for having the courage to share your very powerful story!

    John, thanks for facilitating these types of discussions!

    Great episode!

  5. EastCoast May 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this podcast. These stories are sad and also make me angry! I hope Ashlie finds some healing, along with the “Smith” family in her area.

    Several years ago, I was a primary president and in ward counsel one Sunday we had a ward counsel training on abuse and how to handle it as ward leadership. I naiively went to the meeting thinking it would be good information to have, but surely didn’t apply to our ward. In that meeting, I found out that, unknown to the youth leaders and myself in primary, there was a sex offender in our ward. I expressed outrage at this and said that at least the people with stewardship over the children should be made aware of this information. How could they keep that kind of thing secret?! No one else seemed as outraged, and I got talked over and kind of shuffled out othe discussion with people saying things like, “Well, there are matters of privacy and of course, repentance and the Atonement…” I was furious! This person forfeited their right to privacy when they committed this abuse! I set up a meeting with the bishop to privately discuss this and the entire meeting, as I talked with him about my desire to keep our ward’s children safe, I was given excuses like, “We in the bishoprick make sure to keep an eye on this person every Sunday. We won’t let this person out of our sight.” Then I was made to look like the big jerk when the bishop said, “Now, I know you want me to tell you who this is. You don’t need to know this person’s name. I would hate for there to be gossip. But if you really want to know who it is, I’ll tell you. If you reeeeeally want to know of course, but you really don’t need to know….” So I got up and left the meeting, even more furious at the bishop’s insistance that we needed to protect the identity of the offender over the safety of our children, in addition to him treating me like a gossip and a terrible person for even daring to sugest that this was information we all should be aware of in our leadership positions, or just as parents, really.

    • Old Dog May 5, 2017 at 3:43 am - Reply

      Homosexuals are declared apostate and banned for life, but pedophiles are re-baptized. Go figure.

      • 1moreknowitall May 14, 2017 at 4:53 pm - Reply

        Homosexuals who commit what the church considers sexual sin are required to do certain things to get back in good standing with the church = Pedophiles who commit what the church considers sexual sin are required to do certain things to get back in good standing with the church = Heterosexuals who commit what the church considers sexual sin are required to do certain things to get back in good standing with the church.
        Homosexuals who have committed a sexual sin for which he/she has been excommunicated can repent and be re-baptized = Pedophiles who have committed a sexual sin for which he/she has been excommunicated can repent and be re-baptized = Heterosexuals who have committed a sexual sin for which he/she has been excommunicated can repent and be re-baptized.

    • 1moreknowitall May 14, 2017 at 4:45 pm - Reply

      There is an abundance of evidence that shows that the Sex Offender Registry makes no one any safer, and in fact does the opposite. It was a knee-jerk reaction by politicians. I have three very close friends who treat sex offenders of all types and they agree unanimously with this. The exception is when dealing with violent or repeat offenders. Also, a friend of mine, who is a former police officer and currently a probation officer, has told me for every known offender there are multiple unknown offenders. If a person is going to worry about this it isn’t the knowns one need to worry about the most. Plus, there are many very ridiculous reasons the government will make a person register. An “offender” may not be a danger at all.
      No one has forfeited the right to privacy. Yes, in certain matters, like in breaking the law, private things become known. But after the matter has been handled, the person still has a right to privacy. The registry is not a violation of privacy because a name and an address are not private. But this does not mean the bishop is under an obligation to tell others who this person is, especially if that person has asked him not to. If the person has committed one of the ridiculous crimes for which he/she must register, it’s possible he/she would want to keep a lid on that information, especially if he/she has children. It’s not uncommon for a registered person’s children to be bullied. Keep in mind, there are many reasons a person might be forced to register. Many of them have nothing to do with abusing a child.
      The registry is online in most states. So anyone can go look for themselves. The bishop isn’t required to do that for someone, and he certainly isn’t remiss in his duties by not divulging this to those who in a church context are without a need to know. The government, justly or unjustly, has already got that covered. Therefore, I’m not buying the line that the bishop is the bad guy in this situation, especially since the Original Poster can with much less effort access the information online or by calling the local police department.
      I’m also not buying the line that the Original Poster can do that much to keep the children in the ward safer just by knowing who the offender is. He/she already won’t have callings working directly with children. And policing him/her during very public church hours or other activities isn’t going to do it. So realistically, not a single danger (assuming there is one) has vanished by knowing the person’s name. All that is going to be acquired is a false sense of security – one of the reasons the Sex Offender Registry doesn’t make people any safer.
      Keep in mind also, that if it is true that there all multiple unknown offenders for every known offender, then the Original Poster could very well be one of the unknown offenders. I highly doubt this to be the cause but paranoia, distrust, unfounded judgements/accusations can go both ways.

  6. Anonymous May 3, 2017 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    My sister was raped by a missionary when she was 14 years old. Do you know what happened to her? She was shamed for being too curvy, too sensual, having big breasts, for seducing this missionary (his companion was doing the same thing to her best-friend so both missionaries were in the wrong). My sister and her friend were shamed beyond belief. The two missionaries were separated and sent to a different ward, they weren’t even sent home. Since my family was undocumented [immigrants] my parents were scared to report anything. The bishop asked/threatened them to not report anything and to read the miracle of forgiveness. This experience has left a huge scar on my family, especially my sister. I was 12 years old when this happened. I was so excited to be in YW. I was so earnest. I wanted to be good. My YW president sat me down and talked to me about what happened and how it was my sister’s fault, missionaries are pure, they have the holy ghost with them, and that my sister would be damned forever because of what she did. Only now, that I have recently left the church I am finally unraveling all of that experience and there is so much trauma that I am working through because of that.

    John, your podcasts are a beacon of light. Please keep doing this. It has been my lifeline during this difficult transition.

  7. Sad May 3, 2017 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    I am so very sorry. That is pain that no one should have to endure.

  8. Azul May 4, 2017 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    This topic is such an important one to talk about so thanks for this podcast. I have found over years of experience that because abuse is so ugly and uncomfortable to talk about, it usually gets ignored or at the best, a surface discussion with an inadequate bandaid placed and then swept under the rug. This is done at the expense of safety for children & society. Like this podcast points out, our religious society especially seems to feel more comfortable getting in the corner of the offender, minimizing the victim, and pretending this underbelly doesn’t exist, or that it just isn’t that prevalent. It’s been my experience that all of these responses to abuse are heightened in Mormonism. The fact that abuse usually happens w/in families & such importance is placed on families and thus family image complicates the moral obligations one feels, not to mention the church trying to protect its image and leadership. My mind has continually been blown over the years as I have seen how the church has pretty much ignored the fact that my grandfather is a convicted pedophile. He was a bishop prior to being convicted, underwent counseling and time in jail, but even after this, the church called him to serve a full-time couple mission with his wife & he was even called to serve in scouts!!! I guess because his offenses were against girls, the church figured he was safe in scouts. The visceral response of disgust and disappointment I have felt toward the Church’s lack of care and attention to these matters is almost impossible to put into words. Needless to say, because of my experiences, I view the church as one of the places where me and my husband’s guard has to be the highest for our children. Our children will NEVER have one on one interviews with anyone at church & more than that, when they are old enough, we will teach them that sexual sins are to be dealt with between them and the Lord, not with some man. Thanks for your bravery and openness in discussing such a difficult and emotional subject. Ashlie’s poise and integrity deserve to be commended. THANKS. 🙏🏻

  9. Janice May 4, 2017 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    Hi Ashlie! I admire your poise, honesty, and courage. I’m also a convert to the church and can relate to the feelings you expressed. I admire your strength and your voice. I wish (once upon a time) we could have been in the same ward because I’m sure we would have been friends.

  10. Getting better every day May 6, 2017 at 8:03 am - Reply

    While I was still active, I made a comment in Gospel Doctrine class that it seemed to me that certain families just automatically got a leadership calling because of who they were. The stake president was visiting our class that day and afterwards he had a short meeting with me telling me that the spirit was so strong when he called his brother as the bishop of the other ward that met in our building, that he put aside his concerns of any problems as to what people might think.

    Fast forward a few short years and that bishop was found having had an affair with a lady who’s family of a good husband and children resided in our ward before moving their residence out of our ward’s boundary. That bishop had been doing his thing with her in his office in the ward building. Although leaders tried to keep things quiet, most in our ward found that he had been excommunicated.

    Many members of this non-LDS community knew of the scandal because he was an important businessman in the town and they talked about it, but it remained hush-hush in the surrounding wards. He quickly sold his business to a bishop’s counselor in our ward, and he and his family moved to a city 5 driving-hours away.

    Over the next few months, I would ask about that scandal and members of our ward kept telling me that it was non of my business and that the atonement would take care of everything. The woman that bishop had the affair with, left her husband and moved to Utah, and her husband and family moved away from the area. But I and a few friends were able to talk to him and learn the real facts. And all in our ward knew the family well when they lived within our ward boundary.

    Occasionally we would learn that since that bishop was such a nice man, his wife stayed with him, and he even visited our ward once and though still exed, people were so glad to see him. But all queries about this man were quickly hushed. It’s kind of like when a “strong” family makes a “mistake” and moves away. They are completely forgotten and that is probably how I am considered in our ward now.

    I enjoyed this podcast and am so glad I no longer attend. Most wards are most likely akin to soap operas. Thanks, John ,for all you do.

    • Ashlie May 7, 2017 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      Wow, that is so crazy!

      • 1moreknowitall May 14, 2017 at 5:08 pm - Reply

        What happened (assuming the above story is close to the truth) in this situation really is none of anyone’s business, except for the parties invovled. Humans struggle in this life. Some commit sin, some are sinned against. What happened and how all parties choose to deal with it is their business. Many couples who experience an affair end up stronger. Some don’t. None of us are in a place to say anything that doesn’t give all the benefit of the doubt. I would guess everyone here would want the same.

  11. Brittany May 8, 2017 at 12:12 am - Reply

    Thank you Ashlie for this interview!
    It’s funny how oblivious I once made myself to the fruits the lds teachings really produced.
    When I was a on lds teenager, I had another lds family member sexually abuse me. And I was most definitely made out to be the one who caused the abuse. No one would have guessed the modest laurel president was capable of such a sin as to cause someone to abuse her. ;P
    It wasn’t until years later I learned that their stake president was made aware by someone I knew. Nothing ever came of it. Yet I was told I didn’t realize how I made men feel.
    I also just heard this saying on another podcast called Sacred Skeptics, Many times Christian men (and I’ll add adults) “are acting as though they are in charge of everything except for their own thought life and sexuality. ”
    I also see the leadership not taking action because of the teaching to not cause contention. When I left the lds church my bishop mentioned to me how he knows it’s true because of the peace he feels When he reads the book of mormon. They measure truth by the amount of peace it brings. So of course those who reveal awful truths that don’t bring peace are looked at as contentious and they don’t want to distort their peace by looking into it. History, or accusations of abuse in many cases.

  12. Brittany May 8, 2017 at 12:14 am - Reply

    Sorry I have to correct. They don’t want to disturb their peace. Not distort.

  13. Larry May 8, 2017 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Petition on to impeach Judge Low:

  14. Ben May 9, 2017 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    I checked out Kristin Marie’s website. Could you provide a link to the podcast that Ashlie referenced? I can’t find it.

    Great interview. I’m happy for Ashlie and wish I could transition so swiftly. I’m 10 years into the process and still figuring out how to move forward. So much is built into family expectations, temple recommends, church activity, etc. you don’t realize how sticky it all is until you try to get out.

  15. Audrey May 12, 2017 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately, the pressure to forgive and re-establish relationships strikes at leadership as well. Many years ago I attended a small branch in upstate New York. The Branch President and his wife were lovely people, gracious and welcoming to all branch members including an odd older couple in which the husband was ex-communicated for reasons unknown to most of us. Presumably the BP was trying to bring this man back into the fold but a few years later it was discovered the old man had been molesting the BP’s young sons. We had long since moved to another part of the state but heard of it through the news as it was an ugly, public case. I’ve often wondered how that family reconciled their charitable behavior with the resultant damage to their sons.

  16. Wondering Wanderer May 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Ashlie, you are a very articulate and impressive young woman and I applaud your speaking out. You probably realize now that the twelve year old you wanted to bring back into the church is actually better off without it. I am one of the baby boomers who has seen the light and the church has lost me too.

    I would like to share a little twist with you regarding Matthew 18:6: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” I remember very clearly being taught years ago (sometime in the mid 70’s) in a Gospel Doctrine class in the Mormon church that this quote from Jesus is actually not about physically or sexually harming children. I was told that the word which was translated as “offend” actually means “cause to stumble,” and that “these little ones who believe in me” refers to anyone, children and adults alike, who has a growing faith in Jesus Christ. The scripture could be paraphrased as Jesus saying, “If you do anything that diminishes a new follower’s belief in me, it would be better if you were dead.” Back in the day I questioned that interpretation. If it was indeed a correct translation, then Jesus’ words sound very intimidating, threatening, and self serving, like the kind of thing a Jim Jones or a David Koresh would say.

    Child sexual abuse in the Mormon church has indeed caused child victims and their friends and families to stumble in their faith, and the fault for that lies at the feet of the child molesters, and at the feet of members and church officials who have twisted the concept of the atonement and enabled and protected the offenders. The millstone fits them all, but I doubt that any of them will ever man-up and wear it.

  17. Brenna June 1, 2017 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately, we are FAR from conveying this message to ward members. After seeing this post, I decided to share my experience with my former bishop who had inappropriate relationships with young women in the ward. As of recent, his actions were finally reported, but our stake authorities decided to not call attention to it. Furthermore, they did not tell ward members what had happened. This man was still being allowed to serve and have intimate relationships with his youth.

    After sharing on facebook, I received an alarming number of comments and arbitrary “likes” on comments that supported our Bishop. I was not a victim of his, I only watched it happen on the sidelines and sometimes was more intimately involved. However, I only spoke to my encounters with the issue. Though it wasn’t my purpose to blame, point fingers, or even mock our Bishop, I did want others to be aware. Church members who knew him only saw it as gossip, and I understand why. He was a nice guy- very similar to this post. Though many were frustrated with my accusations, I hope they do at least raise awareness on the issue to further prevent this from happening.

    In my situation, it seemed to have the opposite effect. I’ve never seen so much horrific victim shaming comments. Finally speaking to an issue and how it affected me in the past and now, only perpetuated my fellow members to support the abuser even more. I suppose, for uneducated mormons especially, you really can’t change their mindset or have them view an issue objectively/ think logically. It’s an extremely sad and terrifying thing; when you’re told that by living your life through mormonism, you’re living the best life, when in actuality, you’re creating more harm than good.

    Very disturbed by all of this.

  18. Charmaine June 9, 2017 at 3:36 am - Reply

    Hi John. Just finished listening to these two. A big thank you to Ashlie for being brave and sharing her experiences, the meant a lot. You asked during the show if anyone has experienced anything similar, and I have times 3. All at different ages and different circumstances. The trend with the leaders is the same; “repent” (even when you are the victim), “forgive” and “move on”. You feel like you can’t talk about it at church, or with the leaders, and in my case, I have found that in my family it’s too uncomfortable to talk about (for them).

  19. Kristen April 4, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Listening to this podcast and thinking “there goes another incredibly, amazing person from the church”. The church is bleeding amazing people. Thanks Ashlie for having the courage to share your story. You’re an inspiration!

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