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Pedophilia, in another church

The comparisons are a long way from exact, and this is – so far – just one case. but what if it doesn’t stay that way?

The legal case is unfolding in Federal Way, in Washington, a state where so many pedophilia cases have developed to haunt the Catholic Church. But this one was in another church, another major regional religious organization: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons.

The case concerns two girls, now grown, sexually abused by their stepfather. All were members of the LDS Church. The elder of the girls brought the abuse to the attention of her ward’s bishop but, according to the lawsuit, was told that the family should work out its problems through worship. The abuse continued, and later extended to the girl’s younger sister.

What do you do with a case like that? The step-father’s culpability is clear enough (provided the abuse is clearly determined), but how liable should a church be?

In this instance, a jury in King County awarded $4.2 million to the sisters – most of it to be paid by the church. That is a much larger award than in most church-related abuse cases, and the size of it apparently is sending shock waves through the Catholic Church – and likely through the Mormon Church as well.

LDS leaders say they will appeal and contest the ruling. It seems right that they should: Liability of religious organizations is a matter that has developed case by case through the courts, without any larger overview or sense of policy. It is a fit subject for legislatures to consider (as uncomfortable as that idea may be).

The reason is that for all the cases that have arisen, we may only be seeing a piece of the picture even yet.

Timothy Kosnoff, the plaintiff attorney in the Federal Way LDS case, also is a lead attorney in cases involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch cases at Spokane. This area of law is developing a center of gravity: More will likely be pulled into its orbit before long.

And we have not seen the end of LDS Church involvement. consider this piece of a report by the Child Protection Project:

Last March, the Bellevue, Washington-based attorney filed suit against the Mormon Church and a former bishop in Portland, Oregon. His client, 19-year-old Jeremiah Scott, says he was molested from ages 9 to 10. Repeatedly. By someone he trusted. By a man of God.

Scott and his mother, Sandra Scott, invited Sunday-school teacher Frank Curtis into their home nearly a decade ago to live with their family. The Scotts say that former bishop Gregory Lee Foster knew Curtis had a history of molesting children, but he covered it up, even when Sandra Scott sought his counsel before allowing Curtis to live with them.

“(The Mormons) encourage good works, and this man was elderly. He had approached my client’s mother and said he wanted to live out his remaining years in a family setting and asked if he could come and move in with them,” Kosnoff said in a telephone conversation. “She went to the bishop and told him what she was anticipating doing. The bishop was aware of problems with this man and never said anything, never warned her, and as a result, she invited this man into her home who proceeded to sexually abuse her son.”

In researching the case, Kosnoff said, he found numerous sex-abuse cases involving the Mormon Church which bore a resemblance to the Scott suit – one of them local. In September 1997, prominent Fairfield physician and Mormon Church leader John Parkinson was sentenced to 6 years in prison after being convicted of 16 felony counts of sexual penetration. Parkinson was accused of giving unnecessary pelvic exams to female patients, even after being stripped of his medical license in March 1995 on grounds of negligence.

(Though it’s gotten little attention in most media outlets, there’s more about this case on the web.)

This will be getting much bigger.

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