When Kate Kelly, founder of the Mormon feminist group Ordain Women, was accused of apostasy, she couldn’t readily access the Church Handbook of Instructions, Volume 1, for the definition. So Kelly and Nadine Hansen, a lawyer representing her in her hearings, had to turn elsewhere.
"The only way that women can access that volume is by accessing it online at WikiLeaks,” Kelly told The Daily Beast.
Before Church insiders began leaking Latter Day Saint videos and documents through the so-called MormonLeaks, WikiLeaks was an unlikely ally for church members looking for ease of access to restricted texts. And while the online organization’s religious troublemaking is best known for its exposé of Scientology, it also revealed previously unavailable documents from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Fellowship of Friends, and other organizations.
The Mormon Church didn’t take the leaks quietly. They tried to fight distribution by claiming copyright infringement. (“WikiLeaks will not remove the handbooks, which are of substantial interest to current and former mormons,” a representative of the group said at the time.)
“It is frankly annoying, as a woman, to be told, in a patronizing fashion, that I'm not allowed to see and read the CHI for myself, but that it has to be interpreted for me by a male priesthood holder,” a woman identifying herself as the original source posted.
Kelly’s church troubles started with her advocacy for women’s ordination. In the Mormon Church, all men in good standing can hold the priesthood, but no women can. The church relies heavily on lay leadership, and men who hold the priesthood cycle through positions as bishops or stake presidents, local leaders, and a few make it up the hierarchy to higher office.
But the very disparity she was protesting impeded Kelly’s ability to prepare her own defense. There are two volumes of the Church Handbook of Instructions, and the second is available to anyone. The first, however, is designed for church leaders.
Only a handful of women have regular access to Volume 1, which outlines disciplinary proceedings, while many men cycle through positions that require them to read it. "No other women have access to that, except lots of people who have downloaded it from WikiLeaks,” Hansen, the lawyer, said. (Women are sometimes permitted to review parts of it with their local bishops, Hansen noted.)
The result is "like being governed in a place where you're not allowed to have access to the statutes that you're required to follow,” Hansen told The Daily Beast. "None of those rules are unnecessarily given to the people."
In addition to rules and definitions, the handbook outlines disciplinary proceedings, which start start with counseling by the offender’s local bishop. But people who don’t have access to the first volume of the handbook may not realize that the counseling is not just concern, but the first level if being disciplined by the Church.
"They understand that they're being counseled, but they don't understand that where Church discipline starts is in that counseling session,” Hansen said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not respond to requests for comment.
And in subsequent disciplinary proceedings, women are tried by their local bishop and two other men, while men get 15 men to hear their case, under the stake president. (They also get assigned six of the 12 high council members at the hearing to advocate for them.) Yet the first volume of the handbook states that women can object to a hearing by their bishop, and have the 15-member trial instead.
"But how could they even know that hey could object to the bishop and move it up to the high council if they want to?" Hansen said.
In Kelly’s case, however, the leaked rulebook was the only guide to her perceived offenses.
“In this Statement, references will be made to the Church Handbook of Instructions, 2010 version,” Hansen wrote in a statement in support of Kelly. “I do not know whether that version is the version currently in use, or whether there have been any updates, because of the extremely limited access to the book, but that version is being used because a downloadable version exists on the internet.”
“Lacking any authorized access to the book as a woman, I am forced to use this ‘bootlegged’ version to review the rules,” she added.
The definition of apostasy was spelled out as a four-pronged rule, and it allowed Hansen to focus on the only two points that Kelly could have been perceived to have violated.
But it still didn’t work. Kelly was excommunicated, and didn’t win her appeals.
In a letter about her excommunication, Kelly’s bishop wrote that she was being punished “for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.”
"The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood," Mark Harrison wrote. "The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others."