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1,000 march in Salt Lake City over Mormon youth interviews

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – About 1,000 current and former Mormons marched to the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City Friday to deliver petitions demanding an end to closed door, one-on-one interviews between youth and lay leaders where sexual questions sometimes arise.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed its policy this week to now allow children to bring a parent or adult with them to the interviews, but protesters said that doesn’t go far enough to keep children safe.

The policy change followed recent revelations that a former prominent missionary leader was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s. The ex-leader denies the allegations.

Laurie Shipp, center left, and Jody England Hansen, center right, show their support with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Protesters carried signs such as “Mormon children we have your back” and “No more closed doors,” saying the so-called “worthiness” meetings can lead to unhealthy shaming of youth. Some cried as they recalled being asked detailed questions about their sexual activity or being punished after admitting to masturbation.

“This is my church and it has many good things but it has one thing that has to be eliminated,” said campaign organizer Sam Young, a Mormon from Houston, urging an end to one-on-one interviews and all sexually explicit questions.

Church officials say the interviews allow bishops to get to know youth better and determine their religious habits and obedience to God. They usually happen twice a year starting at age 12. Questions cover topics such as school, sports, hobbies, education goals and family issues, but sometimes delve into sexual behavior because of the church’s strict teachings on abstinence before marriage.

The protesters said they delivered 55,000 signatures on petitions and 15 copies of a book with people’s stories of inappropriate encounters during the interviews to a church representative from the public relations office.

The event came a day before a twice-annual church conference that will be the first since new church president Russell M. Nelson assumed the post in January.

The march had been planned for months by Young, who launched the public campaign last year after he said private attempts to get church leaders’ attention failed.

Allan Mount, a 36-year-old Mormon father of four from Murray, Utah, said he’s a loyal member of the religion who plans to teach his kids the importance of chastity. But, he said the line of questioning that too often happens in the meetings isn’t necessary.

“There’s too much shame attached it,” said Mount. “You can have a healthy understanding of how you should responsibly act sexually without there being shame involved.”

Robin Day, 40, traveled to the march from Arkansas. At one point, he broke down in tears as he relived not being allowed to pray in church or visit the temple when he admitted to his bishop as a teen that he masturbated. He eventually left the church.

“I was told I was lying to God if I don’t confess,” Day said.

Mormon spokeswoman Irene Caso said in a statement Friday that the religion “condemns any inappropriate behavior or abuse regardless of where or when it occurs” and that church leaders are given instructions for youth interviews.

The statement also seemed to be open to change: “As with any practice in the Church, we continually look for ways to improve and adjust by following the Savior in meeting the needs of our members.”

Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a volunteer organization that supports the church, said he agrees that bishops shouldn’t be asking inappropriate sexual questions but disagrees with Young’s demand to require that parents be in every interviews and a ban on questions about a teen’s sexual activities.

“What they’re asking is a step too far,” Gordon said. “It’s making the assumption that bishops are sexual predators. They’re not.”

Robin Day cries as hundreds of Mormons and ex-Mormons gather before marching to the church's headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Robin Day cries as hundreds of Mormons and ex-Mormons gather before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Laurie Shipp, left, and Jody England Hansen appear with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church's headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, and the sexual questions that sometimes arise, during the meetings Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Laurie Shipp, left, and Jody England Hansen appear with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, and the sexual questions that sometimes arise, during the meetings Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Bill Moore cries as he shows his support with hundreds of Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church's headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Bill Moore cries as he shows his support with hundreds of Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

About 1,000 Mormons and former Mormons march to the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 30, 2018, to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed policy this week to allow children to bring a parent or adult with them if they choose. The protesters say that doesn't go far enough. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

About 1,000 Mormons and former Mormons march to the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 30, 2018, to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed policy this week to allow children to bring a parent or adult with them if they choose. The protesters say that doesn’t go far enough. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Jesse Stay, a former scout master, shows his support with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church's headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Jesse Stay, a former scout master, shows his support with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Lisa Christensen shows her support with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church's headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Lisa Christensen shows her support with about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons before marching to the church’s headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders, and the sexual questions that sometimes arise during the meetings, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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