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LDS temple video director, Sundance co-founder admits to child molestation, claims website

Sterling Van Wagenen. (Photo: IMDB)
Sterling Van Wagenen. (Photo: IMDB)
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(UPDATE 2/4/19 3:23 p.m.) -- 2News reached out to the Sundance Institute, which issued this statement from a spokesperson:

"Sundance Institute always stands in solidarity with those whose brave truth-telling shines light on abusive behavior. Recent reports in the press have made us aware of an admission of sexual abuse by Sterling Van Wagenen, who played a role in founding both the Festival and the Institute. He has no current connection to either entity, and hasn't since he left our Utah Advisory Board in 1993. We categorically denounce his behavior as described in recent reports."

(UPDATE 2/4/19 1:38 p.m.) -- 2News reached out to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a comment.

The Church replied saying they would not comment on this story.

(KUTV) -- A story published Monday by The Truth & Transparency Foundation, a website founded by two ex-Mormons who also founded Mormon Leaks, claims a co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and director of two video used in the secretive LDS temple endowment ceremony, admits to molesting a child in the early 1990s.

The abuse allegations are against Sterling Van Wagenen a BYU grad, co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival with Robert Redford, director of the Academy Award winning film "The Trip to Bountiful" and the man who was hired by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to direct new videos for the LDS temple endowment ceremony in 2013.

Van Wagenen is currently a professor and lecturer at The University of Utah.

The website posted an audio recording, allegedly of Sterling Van Wagenen, admitting to the abuse.

"In an audio recording obtained by the Truth & Transparency Foundation (TTF), Van Wagenen describes a double life he lived for decades," the website's article on Van Wagenen said. "When asked if he is a pedophile, Van Wagenen denies that label, but admits to multiple extramarital affairs with both men and women. He also admits to one single instance of sex abuse perpetrated on a minor."

The article, written by TTF founder Ryan McKnight, cites the story of "David" (not his real name) who describes that while at a sleepover with a friend at Van Wagenen's home in 1993, he woke up to Van Wagenen's hand down his pants rubbing his penis.

"He jumped up and ran to the bathroom," McKnight says in the TTF story. "He was scared and did not know what to do. He spent the rest of the night locked in the bathroom and the next 26 years traumatized by the events of that evening."

In the audio posted above, Van Wagenen talks about a "double life" he lived for decades.

"When asked if he is a pedophile, Van Wagenen denies that label, but admits to multiple extramarital affairs with both men and women," McKnight says in the TTF story. "He also admits to one single instance of sex abuse perpetrated on a minor. That minor was David."

"While [Van Wagenen] made a full confession of the crime to both his religious leader and the police, he never completely faced justice," McKnight says in the story.

The audio recording was made by "David" who reached out to Van Wagenen in September 2018 to help get closure on the traumatic event. The two met in person.

David recorded the conversation he has with Sterling Van Wagenen, which you can listen to above.

"Van Wagenen admits to having 'acted out sexually' on many occasions," McKinght says. "He cites being abused as a child by his mother as a contributing factor to this behavior. On the night of the abusive act, he and his wife were arguing. He went downstairs, where the kids were sleeping, and “acted out” by molesting David."

David told his parents about the abuse, who then went to a friend of Van Wagenen they knew through their LDS ward (congregation).

The mutual friend then told Stake President Harold Brown about the abuse. Stake Presidents are ecclesiastical leaders over several LDS wards, or congregations.

"According to the David, the friend, who was a Bishop of a nearby, different congregation at the time, encouraged his parents to let the church handle the situation," McKnight writes.

Van Wagenen claims he fully confessed to what he did during an LDS disciplinary council, which resulted in a two year disfellowshipment from the Church.

"Disfellowshipment is usually temporary, though not necessarily brief," according to the LDS Church. "Disfellowshipped persons retain membership in the Church. They are encouraged to attend public Church meetings, but are not entitled to offer public prayers or to give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood. They may, however, pay tithes and offerings and continue to wear temple garments if endowed.”

"Brown apparently encouraged Van Wagenen to turn himself in to the police," McKnight writes. "Van Wagenen told David he confessed to a detective and never heard from the police again. He did not recall being told why he was never charged with a crime, but that he always assumed it was because David's parents declined to press charges."

The Truth and Transparency Foundation obtained the police reports, which you can read about in their full story here.

"In the report, Detective Steve Jentzsch of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office reported contacting David's father who stated he did not 'want to talk about what happened' and that he was 'supportive of Mr. Vanwagenen in working out this problem,' McKnight writes. "Jentzsch concluded that “the victim refused to pursue [the] complaint.” The case was subsequently closed and Van Wagenen was never charged.

David claims the molestation did not happen over his clothing, and says it was not a pat on his penis, but rather a "stroking motion." He also says he was unaware that police ever contacted his parents. Police reports show David was 13 when the alleged abuse happened.

"David tells the TTF that he was never contacted by Harold Brown or anyone else from the Mormon Church to check on his well being,"McKnight writes. "No therapy or other assistance was ever offered to him. As he described in the recording, this trauma has greatly affected his life and he has never fully recovered from what happened."

So what was Van Wagenen's involvement with the LDS temple videos?

According to TTF:

"Up until 2013, two videos rotated in these sessions, one was produced in 1988, the other in 1990. In 2013 those two videos were replaced with three brand new films, all directed by Sterling Van Wagenen. Multiple sources involved in the production of these films told the TTF that Van Wagenen was brought in by the Mormon Church to direct these movies in an effort to produce a high quality product."

In January 2019, the LDS Church discontinued use of the videos after changes to the endowment ceremony.

The temple ceremony now uses an "audiovisual" presentation which uses still images from the Van Wagenen directed temple films.

Van Wagenen has also directed many films though Excel Entertainment, which produces Mormon-themed films.

Van Wagenen provided the TTF with the following comment:

“I went through the Church disciplinary process and was disfellowshipped for about two years. I repented and there were no further incidents. I reported the abuse to the police, as I was instructed to by my Stake President, and the parents elected not to press charges.”

You can read the police reports below.

You can read the entire transcript of David and Van Wagenen's audio here:

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