Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former West Bountiful mayor, church bishop accused of sex abuse of children

FILE - The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City is seen on April 4, 2022. A Republican state lawmaker in Utah says he plans to introduce legislation that would require all clergy to report child abuse to authorities. Rep. Phil Lyman's proposal, announced Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, would eliminate the clergy-penitent privilege in a state where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the predominant religion. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Rick Bowmer
AP, file
The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City is seen on April 4, 2022.

A former Utah city mayor and bishop with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been arrested on accusations he sexually abused at least three children decades ago.

Carl Matthew Johnson, 77, was arrested Wednesday and booked into the Davis County jail in northern Utah on suspicion of seven counts of sex abuse of a child, according to a probable cause statement.

Investigators say Johnson acknowledged abusing three victims in 1985, 1993 and 1996 and estimated there was a total of six victims as young as 2-years-old, according to the document. He told investigators he had struggled “controlling his sexual urges” most of his life.

Some of the alleged abuse occurred in the same years as he was mayor of West Bountiful, a city just outside of Salt Lake City that he led from 1990-1997.

The investigation is still ongoing, but so far Johnson is only booked on charges stemming from three victims. Johnson had not yet been charged as of Thursday afternoon and it was unknown if he had an attorney.

Johnson was in a “position of trust” over each victim, but investigators don't explain what that was in the probable cause document. Stephanie Dinsmore, spokesperson for Davis County Sheriff’s Office, also declined to explain.

The victims told investigators they were told not to tell anyone, and Johnson used his position to suppress disclosures, according to the probable cause statement.

Dinsmore initially declined Thursday to provide information about when Johnson was a bishop over a congregation of the faith known widely as the Mormon church, saying in a text that the agency would not be commenting on Johnson’s “affiliation” with the faith.

She later disclosed that he was a bishop from 1974-1979. Bishops are lay clergy who oversee local congregations for a few years at a time in a rotating role reserved only for men in the faith known widely as the Mormon church.

Sam Penrod, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement the allegations are “serious and deeply troubling” and reiterated the church stance that the faith doesn't tolerate any kind of abuse.

“Those who engage in abusive behavior are rightfully subject to prosecution by legal authorities and also face loss of church membership,” Penrod said.

The faith has come under scrutiny following an Associated Press investigation that found flaws in how it handles reporting of sex abuse allegations made to bishops. The church has defended the system and alleged AP has mischaracterized its reporting system.

The AP reported Thursday that a Utah lawmaker was the person who advised a church bishop in Arizona not to report a confession of child sex abuse to authorities, a decision that allowed the abuse to continue for years, according to records filed in a lawsuit.

Updated: September 9, 2022 at 9:10 AM MDT
Updated with a statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.