SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah city mayor and bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been arrested for sexually abusing at least three children decades ago.
Carl Matthew Johnson, 77, was arrested Wednesday and taken to the Davis County Jail in northern Utah on suspicion of seven counts of child sexual abuse, according to a probable cause statement.
Investigators say Johnson admitted to abusing three victims in 1985, 1993 and 1996 and estimated there were a total of six victims as young as 2 years old, according to the document. He told investigators he had struggled to “control his sexual urges” for most of his life.
Some of the alleged abuses occurred during the same years he was mayor of West Bountiful, a town just outside of Salt Lake City that he led from 1990 to 1997.
The investigation is still ongoing, but so far Johnson is only charged with three victims. Johnson had not yet been charged as of Thursday afternoon and it was unclear 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, a spokeswoman for the 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 the disclosures, according to the probable cause statement.
Dinsmore initially declined on Thursday to provide information about when Johnson served as bishop of a faith congregation widely known as the Mormon Church, saying in a text that the agency would not comment on “the affiliation from Johnson with Faith.
She later revealed that he was a bishop from 1974 to 1979. Bishops are lay clergymen who oversee local congregations for a few years at a time in a rotating role reserved only for men of faith widely known as of Mormon Church.
Sam Penrod, spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement that the allegations were “serious and deeply disturbing” and reiterated the church’s position that faith does not condone any type of abuse.
“Those who engage in abusive behavior are legitimately subject to legal action and also risk losing their church membership,” Penrod said.
The faith has come under scrutiny following an Associated Press investigation that found flaws in how it handles reporting sexual abuse allegations made to bishops. The church defended the system and alleged that the AP misinterpreted its reporting system.
The AP reported Thursday that a Utah lawmaker was the person who advised a bishop of a church in Arizona not to report an admission of child sex abuse to authorities, a move that helped abuses to continue for years, according to court filings.