Saturday, April 12, 2008 | 2:06 a.m.
The national media have rightly been riveted to the police raid of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints’ ranch in Texas this week. Police have alleged some horrific crimes, saying child rape and forced marriages were common.
One of the most troubling aspects of this tragedy is that for decades this church has been allowed to perpetuate a cycle of child abuse — despite widespread knowledge of such practices.
The group is new to Texas, having bought the ranch just four years ago, but it is well-known in the West, with its base in a small community on the Arizona-Utah border. The FLDS is the largest of the groups that splintered from mainstream Mormonism over polygamy a century ago and now has members spread from Canada to Mexico.
The sect’s practices haven’t been a secret. Police, however, were reluctant to challenge the polygamists because a 1953 raid of the Arizona-Utah FLDS property resulted in a political backlash against authorities. As a result, the church continued to raise and indoctrinate children in its perverse ways.
It was only a few years ago that authorities started taking a serious second look. In 2006 police arrested church leader Warren Jeffs on charges of arranging marriages between men and underaged girls.
Jeffs has since been convicted in Utah, but that didn’t stop the church from continuing to develop the ranch it bought four years ago in Texas, including an 80-foot-high white temple with marriage beds for men and underaged girls.
Police said there were a number of pregnant teenage girls and removed 416 children, who they said were in danger of “emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.” Another 139 women left on their own.
Investigators are having some difficulty sorting out the situation because the women and children have been trained to protect their families and their church. The code of silence, however, wasn’t limited to the church: Society allowed this to go on for far too long.