Lawsuit Against the Mormon Church Could Change How Houses of Worship Report Abuse

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has world headquarters in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Three years ago, Mormon officials in Oregon heard one of their members admit he had abused one of his daughters.

They heard his confession. Then called law enforcement.

Now they’re being sued.

Kristine Johnson of Oregon claims The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints violated the doctrine of confidentiality when it disclosed her husband’s confession, leading to his arrest and imprisonment.

It’s a case that legal observers are watching closely. Depending on the outcome, at least one legal expert said this lawsuit could have serious implications for the way houses of faith report abuse.

The lawsuit, which was filed Friday (Jan. 3) in Marion County Circuit Court in Oregon, seeks $9.5 million for the family’s emotional distress and loss of income, and $40,000 to pay for criminal defense. Included in the lawsuit are four of the couple’s five children.

According to the suit, Johnson learned in 2016 that her husband, Timothy, engaged in inappropriate conduct with his daughter when she was underage. After that, the suit says, the couple followed the rules and scriptures of the Latter-day Saints, which require congregants to “confess their sins unto the brethren before the Lord.”

Her husband confessed to a number of church leaders in their local stake, a network of local congregations, who participated as members of the church court. He told them he engaged in improper sexual contact with his minor daughter, the lawsuit states.

After that, a member of the court reported the confession to state authorities, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims church leaders failed to tell the couple that if the husband “followed Church scripture and guidance and confessed his sins, that they would report him to state authorities.”

Bill Brandt, the attorney representing the family, said the husband’s confession was a way to seek redemption. Brandt said the Johnsons, whom he described as devout Mormons, put their faith in the religion. Brandt also said the husband worked as a sculptor and was the main provider of the family. The husband was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, Brandt said.

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Source: Religion News Service