Confidential annotations on membership records


One day what4anarchy told me that every membership record has a place for a bishop’s eyes only, in which a bishop can put comments about the member for other bishops to read. In this way, the thoughts of the bishop can be passed on to the next bishop. This means that if a certain bishop didn’t like you or had suspicions about you, he could put those suspicions in the annotations of your membership record so that when you get to your next ward and bishop, the new bishop can then look upon you with the same suspicions that the previous bishop had. In other words, you became blacklisted.

Now, I’ve never seen such an annotation, never having been a bishop, nor have I confirmed this with other people, but I did ask my own bishop about it and he said that it’s not really a place to write remarks about the member, but a check box to call the previous bishop for concerns about the person.

Who did I believe? Well, to be honest, my bishop was young and brand-spanking new when I asked him, so I assumed that he still didn’t know all about it. My trust remained with what4anarchy, but also expanded to believe that there was also such a check-box that my bishop described. I left it at that, as I still didn’t have confirmation of what4anarchy’s assertion.

That is until tonight. I just came across an LDS Newsroom – Child Abuse article, in which two paragraphs in particular caught my attention:

Since 1995 the Church has placed a confidential annotation on the membership record of members who previously abused children. These records follow them to any congregation where they move, thereby alerting bishops not to place them in situations with children. As far as we know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first religious institution to create such a tracking mechanism. We hold the family sacred and protect its children. This explains why the Church is one of the few denominations that imposes formal ecclesiastical discipline on mere members (as opposed to official clergy) for sexually abusive conduct.

Our Church applies this tracking system because of our core beliefs. No court in the United States has held a religious institution responsible for failing to protect its members from abuse by other members. To do so would turn religious institutions into police instruments, its leadership into law enforcement officers. The Church voluntarily tracks its membership, not because of the law or fear of lawsuits, but out of its own concern for families and children.

I find it interesting that the newsroom article calls it tracking. What makes me wonder is if the tracking system is used for more than just convicted child abusers. Are other convicts also tracked? What about people who have not been found guilty of any crime, civil or religious, but who are held in suspicion by their ecclesiastical leader? Does he write a note in the annotation section to the next bishop concerning his suspicions? The newsroom article doesn’t say. But I find the whole tracking system worrisome. Surely, the potential for such a confidential annotation to be used to blacklist suspected or disliked members is there.

This talk of tracking also brings to my mind a new trend in the church: temple recommends with bar codes. Are we seeing an emerging pattern?

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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11 Comments

  1. With respect to the Bar Codes on the recommends – when they started talking about this last year it reminded me of back in the day with the magnetic strips on our recommends. Those were eventually phased out, or done away with – I really wasn’t paying attention back then. I seem to remember that there were always “technical difficulties” but don’t know if that is why it was done away with, or did people just not like to be tracked? Anybody remeber?

  2. That’s ‘remember’

  3. LDS Anarchy, it says, “members who previously abused children,” not “convicted child abusers.” Did you slap your child out of frustration? Is that on your record? Did someone dislike how you spoke to your child in a moment of anger? Is that on your record? Do you raise your children differently than mainstream culture? Is that on your record as “abuse”?

    In other words, how far does it take it?

  4. From what I have read and heard from various sources, anything can be put in this annotation section. So if you were spanking the monkey or if the bishop simply doesnt like you he could put that in there. Perhaps the most disturbing part is a member is not allowed to see his or her own record in full. The part with the annotation can only be viewed by the Bishop and one of his secretaries. The only reason I can think of not allowing someone to see this annotation, is to prevent the Church from being sued. I smell an ACLU law suit coming on this one……

  5. An annotation is not just notes that any Bishop can write if they don’t like you or whatever. An annotation is an official thing. If a bishop suspected someone of child molestation he couldn’t put an annotation. There would have to be a sin in which a disiplinary counsel was held or if the person had a conviction for something that would be dangerous to people in the ward or church.

  6. Where is the file on Bishops and Stake Presidents who have abused children, including but not limited to sexual abuse of children, both their own and other people’s children? That could be an extremely helpful public service for the community.

  7. The system isn’t that open ended. I am not a bishop or stake president, and therefore have no first-hand experience to draw on, but handbook 1 (2010) makes it pretty clear that the bishop can only request an annotation for “predatory conduct” or behavior which threatens other members’ well-being (sexual abuse, embezzlement of funds, etc). This must be either the result of a disciplinary council or actual criminal conviction. The only time an offense that isn’t on the list in the manual may be annotated on the member’s record is through the joint effort of both the stake president and bishop. As it stands, the system isn’t designed for nor is it conducive to being a tool to allow bishops to casually write notes about members. I’m sure it has been abused in the past, which is not okay, and very sad to think about. But I’m also sure it’s helped prevent the victimization of other members and their children, so therefore it’s a tradeoff that I’m okay with personally. I don’t see it as something sinister. But to each his own.

  8. Kind of ironic since when it comes to active members who are found guilty of sexual abuse it is more often than not precisely bishops and stake presidents who show up in the system. I refer not to the church’s system, but what police records are available to the public.

  9. It’s not on the “permanent record” — but when you send records to another unit, there used to be a place [it was maybe 5 years ago or so that I saw this] for a little “comment”. We always left it blank but were told it was used if the bishop from our ward wanted to have the bishop from the new ward contact him for a heads-up regarding some “unresolved worthiness issues” with the member.

    I don’t know if that feature is still there or not.

  10. Just want to clarify a few things based on my experience serving in the church.

    There is a checkbox a Bishop or Clerk may check on a member’s record that requests that the new bishop contact him after the record arrives in its new ward. There is no comment section available there and this selection does not persist after the record is moved.

    There is an annotation that only a bishop can see. These annotations are added in cases where the member has been disciplined for a short list of offenses that may make him a danger to the church or its members (ie child abuse, pedophelia, embezzlement of church funds, etc.) these disciplinary councils are typically initiated by a bishop or stake president but always reviewed by both.

    Other serious transgressions even as serious as adultery or fornication are typically not annotated permanently on church records. The record will reflect when a member is under formal discipline until it is resolved by the persons bishop and then it will be gone.

    So this is far less sinister than you are imagining. Bishops do commonly contact previous bishops via phone or email when a member moves in. It is required by policy for things like temple recommend renewal if the member has been in the ward for only a short time.

    And no. There is no reporting of temple attendance by individual at the local level in the church. The bar codes are using for controlling active vs inactive recommends. With people losing them so much, it’s a necessary and reasonable control.

  11. To Counselor: This is not entirely true. Over 4 years ago I was disfellowshipped for a period of 1 year for adultery. After completing the repentance process and returning to full fellowship in the Church we moved to a different state. I was soon called as a counselor in the Bishopric and served with all conviction and dedication. Last month our Bishop was released and a new one was called. I never aspired to the calling, nor did I want it, but many people said they were expecting me to be called. In the process of the reorganization, the former bishop told me that he recommended my name to the Stake President. Two weeks later the Stake President called him back to say that due to an annotation in my record I could not be considered to hold keys in the church. My Bishop told me this to say that he was trying to overcome his anger with me for ever having gone through Church Discipline. The Stake President confirmed the presence of the annotation with details to me just 2 weeks ago.
    My sin was serious, it was adultery. But it was not child abuse, pedophilia, embezzlement, etc. Not one that would put members at risk of predatory behavior. The annotation still exists and according to my Stake President will exist for the rest of my life and will limit my ability to serve in callings in the church.
    I know God forgives, my wife forgives, and no one but my wife, Bishop, Stake Presidency, and HC that did the DH should ever know of it. It was fully resolved before I ever left my previous Stake. But that annotation is real and permanent. I’m still wrestling with what that means…and wondering whether or not true forgiveness can ever be attained. “Though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as snow.”


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