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Mission president ‘deceived and victimized’ young female missionaries, says LDS Church

Faith

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Thursday regarding the conduct of a mission president serving in Puerto Rico who was removed from his leadership position in 2014 and excommunicated.

“This is a tragic and heartbreaking case of deception and betrayal that has impacted many lives. When church leaders learned of what had occurred, the mission president was immediately and dishonorably released from his position, sent home and excommunicated from the church,” Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the LDS Church, said in a statement Thursday.

Philander Knox Smartt III, who is listed online as a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, was called as the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission president in 2013. However, he was removed from that position less than a year later because of “unspecified conduct with missionaries,” according to a Deseret News report. A mission president is a man called by Mormon Church leaders who oversees a group of missionaries and their efforts in a specific area of the world.

Hawkins did not give details about the conduct, but said, “the victims, as adults, chose not to pursue criminal charges.”

“The sister missionaries who had been deceived and victimized were provided with ecclesiastical and emotional counseling, which continues to be offered to this time,” Hawkins added. “The wife and family of the mission president have been assisted by the church with the legal, emotional and personal consequences resulting from the immoral and sinful behavior of one man.”

Elder W. Craig Zwick, who was an LDS Church general authority at the time, was named interim mission president over the mission in May 2014, and served along with his wife, Sister Jan Zwick, before President Bruce Boucher and Sister Rebecca Boucher, of Holladay, were called to the position in July 2014, according to the Deseret News.

Hawkins said the role of a mission president is “a position of significant trust” and men are selected after they are recommended by local leaders and interviewed by LDS general authorities. They are also expected to live and embody high standards privately and publicly. That “expectation was betrayed” in this case, Hawkins said.

“Any missionary who informs church leaders, family members and/or legal authorities about abuse should be commended, and may use any available means to do so,” Hawkins said. “This is what occurred in this case, and it prompted immediate action by the church.”

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