By Kent Larsen
Oregon Abuse Lawsuit Seeks LDS Church Financial Information
PORTLAND, OREGON -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is
fighting a legal request for financial statements detailing its income and
the value of its assets. The request comes as part of an Oregon lawsuit in
which Plaintiff Jeremiah Scott, 22, accused the LDS Church of failing to
warn his mother that Franklin Richard Curtis was a pedophile. Curtis boarded
in Scott's Portland home and abused him at age 11. He was convicted of the
abuse in 1994 and died in 1995.
Scott subsequently filed his lawsuit against the Church, claiming that
then-Bishop Gregory Lee Foster of the Brentwood Ward knew that Curtis was a
pedophile. According to the plaintiff, Scott's mother, Sandra Scott, asked
Foster for advice about boarding Curtis in her home, and was told it was
"not a good idea" because of Curtis' age. Believing that age was the only
deterrent, Sandra Scott brought Curtis into her home, and eventually let him
sleep in the same bed with her son for more than two months. Scott claims he
was abused on a daily basis for about six months.
Earlier this year, Judge Ellen Rosenblum ruled that the Church must provide
information about all child sexual abuse complaints and disciplinary actions
in the Portland area over the past 25 years, but the Church planned at that
time to appeal the order to the Oregon Supreme Court. Rosenblum also ruled
in May that Scott could seek punitive damages, given Scott's argument that
his case and others like it showed a pattern within the church of failing to
report and warn members about abuse. The Church's Portland attorney, Stephen
English of the firm Bullivant Houser Bailey, calls that claim nonsense,
"There is no pattern of protecting child abusers of any kind in the church,"
But the May ruling opened the door for the plaintiffs to seek financial
information from the Church. In punitive damage cases, judges commonly seek
financial information from the defendants so that a jury can weigh its
ability to pay in deciding the amount of punitive damages. Scott's attorneys
say that this information is a factor in determining how much Scott will
seek in punitive damages.
But English asked Judge Rosenblum earlier this month to rule that the Church
will not be required to disclose its finances. He argued that forcing the
Church to disclose financial information would violate its First Amendment
right to operate free from government entanglement. English argues that at
most financial information required should be limited to Oregon and notes
that determining the value of properties with "infinite spiritual and
symbolic value to the church" like its Temples and historic sites would be
But one of Scott's attorneys, Jeffrey Anderson, says that he isn't asking
for a valuation, just financial documentation the Church already produces.
English did tell the court that the Church could afford to pay damages of
$162 million, twice the amount of the largest punitive damage award in
Oregon history. Scott is seeking more than $1.5 billion in damages from the
But the request touches on a sensitive point for the Church. It hasn't
released financial information since 1959 and subsequent evaluations of the
Church's finances, such as the $30 billion estimate of the value of its
assets by Richard Ostling in his 1999 book "Mormon America: The Power and
the Promise" have been met by statements that the estimates are 'inaccurate'
without further clarification the observation that most of the Church's
assets require continual maintenance, won't be sold and do not produce income.
Sex Case May Pry Open Finances of LDS Church
Salt Lake Tribune 17Jul01 N1
By Elizabeth Neff: Salt Lake Tribune
Church fights plaintiff's attempt for force financial disclosure
(Phoenix) AZ Republic (AP) 17Jul01 D2
LDS Church Fighting Judge's Order to Provide Child Abuse Records