Earlier today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement announcing that:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its affiliated investment manager, Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc., have settled a matter with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Unsuprisingly, the Salt Lake Tribune describes the context surrounding the settlement in more detail:
In a settlement announced Tuesday with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Utah-based faith and its investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors, have agreed to pay $5 million in penalties for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings and going to “great lengths” to deliberately “obscure” the church’s investment portfolio.
Reading through the Church’s statement, I was genuinely surprised (and even a little impressed), when I read the following statement:
We… regret mistakes made…
This is, of course, a textbook example of a non-apology. It’s vaguely regretful rather than actively apologetic, passive voice neatly sidesteps the question of who bears responsibility, and the reference to “mistakes” downplays the intentionality of creating 13 shell companies with the intent of concealing the Church’s wealth. And yet, the Church’s (in)famous reluctance to issue any sort of apology or acknowledge any kind of wrongdoing, it’s genuinely surprising (and even a little impressive) that it would do so here.
Of course, this non-apology gets repeated later on in the statement—and in a way that makes it clear how weak the statement is:
Q: Did Ensign Peak fail to comply with SEC regulations?
A: We reached resolution with the SEC. We affirm our commitment to comply with the law, regret mistakes made, and now consider this matter closed.
Note how the answer here does not actually answer the question being asked. At no point does the Church acknowledge that Ensign Peak failed to comply with SEC regulations, instead repeating its weak statement. Furthermore, it’s mind-boggling that the Church would follow up the non-apology with a statement that they “now consider this matter closed”—i.e., that whatever mistakes may or may not have been made by unspecified persons or organizations, it would be wildly inappropriate to further acknowledge them, so don’t even try, buster.
Even the reference to a “commitment to comply with the law” rubs me the wrong way—as though the only reason that the Church has mustered a non-apology in the first place is because there were legal consequences for their decisions. Indeed, this response stands in sharp contrast with the Church’s response to Associated Press reporting about child sexual abuse in Arizona that was not reported to government officials by Latter-day Saint leaders. In its responses to this reporting, the Church forcefully argued that those leaders had no legal responsibility to make their reports, and came out swinging against the Associated Press simply for suggesting that it would tolerate child sexual abuse. As far as I am aware, none of the Church’s public statements on the matter included even a fraction of a non-apology for any sexual abuse that has happened in Latter-day Saint contexts or been mishandled by Latter-day Saint leaders. As frustrating as this non-apology is, it’s even more frustrating that victims of child sexual abuse don’t even deserve that much.
So, at the end of the day, my being surprised and (fleetingly) impressed by such a weak statement feels more damning than anything else. How low is the bar that such a weak statement would make such a big initial impression on me?
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