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Former Mormon bishop highlighted in AP investigation arrested on felony child sex abuse charges

A former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was featured in an Associated Press investigation into how the church protects itself from allegations of sexual abuse was arrested by police in Virginia this week after being indicted on charges he sexually abused his daughter while accompanying her on a school trip when she was a child, according to court filings.

Police and federal authorities had been searching for John Goodrich after a grand jury in Williamsburg on Jan. 17 found probable cause that he committed four felonies, including rape by force, threat or intimidation, forcible sodomy, and two counts of felony aggravated sexual battery by a parent of a child.

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Those charges were filed weeks after the AP investigation revealed how a representative of the church, widely known as the Mormon church, employed a risk management playbook that has helped it keep child sexual abuse cases secret after allegations surfaced that Goodrich abused his daughter Chelsea, now in her 30s, at their home in Idaho as well as on a school field trip to the Washington, D.C., area 20 years ago.

The exterior of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is shown in Hailey, Idaho, on Sept., 19, 2023. Former Idaho bishop in the Mormon church, John Goodrich, was arrested Tuesday, March 12, 2024, by police in Virginia after being indicted on charges he sexually abused his daughter while accompanying her on a school trip when she was a child. Recordings obtained by The Associated Press show that instead of helping prosecutors, the Mormon church used a legal playbook that has helped protect itself from sex abuse claims.

“I hope this case will finally bring justice for my childhood sexual abuse,” Chelsea Goodrich said in a statement to the AP. “I’m grateful it appears that the Commonwealth of Virginia is taking one event of child sexual assault more seriously than years of repeated assaults were treated in Idaho.”

A call Wednesday to John Goodrich’s cellphone went immediately to voicemail. Thomas Norment, a Williamsburg defense attorney for John Goodrich, declined to comment, saying he was still familiarizing himself with the case. The Williamsburg Police Department also did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Goodrich’s case.

Goodrich’s arrest in Virginia comes nearly eight years after he was arrested in Idaho on similar charges. Chelsea and her mother, Lorraine, went to Idaho police in 2016 to report wide-ranging allegations of abuse during her childhood.

Those charges were eventually dropped after a key witness in the case, another Mormon bishop to whom John had made a spiritual confession about him and his daughter, refused to testify. While the details of that confession have not been made public, the church excommunicated Goodrich.

The AP’s investigation was based in part on hours of audio recordings of Chelsea’s 2017 meetings with Paul Rytting, a Utah attorney who was head of the church’s Risk Management Division, which works to protect the church against sexual abuse lawsuits and other costly claims.

Chelsea went to Rytting for help in getting the bishop to testify about John’s spiritual confession. During the recorded meetings, Rytting expressed concern for what he called John’s “significant sexual transgression,” but said the bishop, whose position in the church is akin to a Catholic priest, could not testify. He cited a “clergy-penitent privilege” loophole in Idaho’s mandatory reporting law that exempts clergy from having to divulge information about child sex abuse that is gleaned in a spiritual confession.

Without that testimony, prosecutors in Idaho dropped that earlier case.

Invoking the clergy privilege was just one facet of the risk management playbook that Rytting employed in the Goodrich matter. Rytting offered Chelsea and her mother $300,000 in exchange for a confidentiality agreement and a pledge to destroy their recordings of their meetings, which they had made at the recommendation of an attorney and with Rytting’s knowledge. The AP obtained similar recordings that were made by a church member at the time who attended the meetings as Chelsea’s advocate.

The church also employed the use of its so-called sex abuse Helpline, which John Goodrich’s bishop had called after his confession. As AP revealed in 2022, the Helpline is a phone number set up by the church for bishops to report instances of child sex abuse. Instead of connecting church victims to counseling or other services, however, the Helpline often reports serious allegations of abuse to a church law firm.

In a statement to the AP for its recent investigation, the church said, “the abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable,” and that John Goodrich, following his excommunication, “has not been readmitted to church membership.”

News coverage of the Idaho case brought out another alleged victim. After learning about Chelsea’s allegations, a 53-year-old single mother accused him of having nonconsensual sex with her after giving her the drug Halcion, a controlled substance John Goodrich often used to sedate patients during dental procedures. She alleged that Goodrich drugged her the previous July after she cut off a sexual relationship with him.

In the end, John Goodrich reached a plea agreement in that case, and escaped sex crimes charges.

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Chelsea Goodrich approached the AP with her story, she said, because her father remained free and practicing dentistry in Idaho with access to children.

On Tuesday, after authorities spent two weeks searching for him, Goodrich turned himself in to police in Williamsburg, a court official told Chelsea Goodrich, and he posted bond. He will be allowed to leave Virginia during legal proceedings, the court official said.

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