For the younger readers, I give the wiki and a quick summary. Paul H. Dunn was a major General Authority in the 70s and early 80s who was caught lying through his teeth so often that he was removed as a leader. His lies included playing baseball where he didn’t, serving in Vietnam when he didn’t, and a host of other things.
Please note that, although known as a devout liar that misled saints with tales of miracles and personal achievement, his stories can still be found in manuals being taught to children, and he is listed as an author in the Old Testament Student Manual and as a study source in the instructor’s manuals.
Of course, we’d expect talks of his to still be listed on the LDS.org site, but, to my surprise, many of his talks and lessons were reiterated after he admitted that he had embellished his stories in 1991. Sharing Time in 1990, while Paul H. Dunn was under investigation, even included his stories distributed in both the U.S. and foreign mailings of the Friend.
Interestingly, his obituary is rather short, not listing his war service, his baseball experience, or any other of his tall tales. Also noteworthy, he was never excommunicated for lying to the body of the church, just given Emeritus status on October 1, 1989.
In the late 1980s, a number of investigators, including Arizona Republic reporter Lynn Packer and church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner, accused Dunn of fabricating or embellishing many of these events.
Jerald and Sandra Tanner published this number once he confessed, illustrating the long history of fabricating stories to make people feel good. I think it is relevant that Mr. Dunn was committing fraud as the head of a company long before anything came to light publicly:
Paul H. Dunn… whose church salary is $40,000 a year, was a director of Afco Enterprises, a real-estate venture until 1978. Afco collapsed four years later; and its owner, Grant C. Affleck, was recently indicted for mail fraud, securities fraud and bankruptcy fraud. Despite Mr. Dunn’s 1978 resignation, records in the U. S. District Court civil suit here show that he continued to have ties with Afco until it entered bankruptcy proceedings in 1982…. and gave advice to directors after he resigned…. A few days before Afco entered bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Dunn wrote a disgruntled Afco investor a letter calling Mr. Affleck, a fellow Mormon, ‘fair and Christ like.’ U. S. Attorney Brent Ward… says that about 650 investors lost over $20 million through Afco investments.’
Lynn Packer is an interesting fellow. He is the nephew of Boyd K. Packer, and was a professor at BYU at the time.
Researcher Lynn Packer did not get off so easily. “At the same time [that they placed Dunn on emeritus status], however, the university [BYU] terminated Packer’s teaching contract, in part because he wanted to publish a story about his findings. Gordon Whiting, then chairman of the BYU communications department, had warned Packer in a memo that `publication of the Paul Dunn article will damage the church, will damage the university, will damage the department and will damage you.'”
When Packer, himself a Mormon, decided to release his four years of research to The Arizona Republic in spite of the threats, his contract was terminated and he lost his job. Whiting explained that Packer violated, “church and university policies that prohibit public criticism if church leaders. Mormon leader Dunn was not reprimanded for altering the facts, but Packer was fired simply for showing that these stories were not true.
Lynn Packer also investigated another con man of infamy, one “Mark Hofmann.” He had been tasked at KSL, as he was also employed there, to look into Mark Hofmann’s dealings with Gordon B. Hinckley. He was fired for wanting to publish that story. Packer also published work for the Utah City Weekly newspaper in 2007, highlighting graft and issues in the Olympics, as well as other issues.
Among Dunn’s claims that came to be questioned were:
- that Dunn had played major league baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals;
- that Dunn was one of only six in his 1,000-man combat group who survived World War II, and was the only one of the six survivors who wasn’t wounded;
- that Dunn was the sole survivor among 11 infantrymen in a 100-yard race against death, during which one burst of machine-gun fire ripped his right boot off, another tore off his ammunition and canteen belt and yet another split his helmet in half—all without wounding him;
- that Dunn’s best friend died in his arms from serious injuries sustained in a battle on Okinawa.
When confronted with evidence that several of his stories were either completely falsified or substantially embellished, Dunn admitted that the stories were not completely true, yet continued to defend his use of the stories:
I haven’t purposely tried to embellish or rewrite history. I’ve tried to illustrate points that would create interest. [I was] simply putting history in little finer packages.
The response to the allegations against Mr. Dunn were, perhaps predictable. The Deseret News tried to cast reason to doubt the allegations, and BYU students informed in the Daily Universe became upset anyone would say such truths about a man who was so loved, including one man punching the author (The Daily Universe, Feb. 21, 1991)!
On October 26, the following letter was published in the Church News, a supplement section of Deseret Morning News (a newspaper owned by the LDS Church):
October 23, 1991
I have been accused of various activities unbecoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I confess that I have not always been accurate in my public talks and writings. Furthermore, I have indulged in other activities inconsistent with the high and sacred office which I have held.
For all of these I feel a deep sense of remorse, and ask forgiveness of any whom I may have offended.
My brethren of the General Authorities, over a long period of time, have conducted in-depth investigations of the charges made against me. They have weighed the evidence. They have censured me and placed a heavy penalty upon me.
I accept their censure and the imposed penalty, and pledge to conduct my life in such a way as to merit their confidence and full fellowship.
In making these acknowledgements, I plead for the understanding of my brethren and sisters throughout the Church and give assurance of my determination so to live as to bring added respect to the cause I deeply love, and honor to the Lord who is my Redeemer.
Sincerely, Paul H. Dunn
The exact identity of the “heavy penalty” that was imposed upon Dunn is unclear. It is clear that Dunn was not excommunicated from the church, though it is not known whether or not he was placed under some other form of church discipline, such as disfellowshipment or probation.
So what should have happened to Mr. Dunn? In a Sunstone article, there is final note about an LDS chaplain who forged heroic stories about serving in Vietnam. The Chaplain was court-martialed and faced up to 20 years in prison. He was fined $10,000 and dismissed, however.
The fascinating thing is not just that the church tried to cover up the scandal, not that they tried to bribe their way out of it, or that they still use a man who blatantly lied in their teaching material up until long after it was obvious the man was a fraud. It’s that so many of the current GAs are engaged in similar behavior without anyone noticing.