SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Mormon church member supervising young missionaries in Puerto Rico was removed from the post and kicked out of the religion after female missionaries reported behavior that was “immoral and sinful,” the church announced Thursday.
Philander Knox Smartt III was replaced in April 2014 after the women said they had been deceived and victimized, said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hawkins wouldn’t provide further details and the statement didn’t say how many women had made allegations. They chose not to pursue criminal charges or file a police report, he said.
Efforts to reach Smartt by phone, email and text were unsuccessful. The 48-year-old has lived in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee in recent years, public records show.
A woman who identified herself as his mother, Gloria Smartt, declined comment on the allegations in a brief phone conversation and said she and his father are hoping their son will “get his life situated.”
The church made the statement the same day The Salt Lake Tribune reported the story, which said Smartt is a developer and lawyer.
Hawkins said the women were provided with counseling and commended for reporting to church leaders a case of “deception and betrayal.”
“We feel profound sorrow for what each of these women has experienced,” he said. “It is particularly heartbreaking that they have suffered because of the actions of a man who should have been a trusted priesthood leader. As followers of Jesus Christ, we want to do all within our power to both alleviate suffering and prevent abuse.”
The disclosure came as the church faces scrutiny about how it handles sexual abuse reports following accusations that a former prominent missionary leader in Utah sexually assaulted two women in the 1980s.
One of the women has sued that man, Joseph L. Bishop, former director of the Missionary Training Center. Bishop has denied any wrongdoing through his son, an attorney. Bishop can be heard apologizing in a secretly recorded conversation with one of the accusers and acknowledging that he molested a second woman, describing it as backrub that got “too frisky.”
Missions are considered rites of passage for many Mormons, broadening their perspective on the world, strengthening their faith and helping prepare some for future leadership roles within the church. Men serve two years while women go for 18 months.