By Kent Larsen
Church Settles Portland Abuse Case for $3 Million
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Citing unfavorable rulings by a local judge
that will take protracted appeals and significant expense to reverse,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agreed Tuesday to
settle a lawsuit over child abuse by a church member. The Church
agreed to pay $3 million to 22-year-old Jeremiah Scott, who claims
that his then-Bishop knew that Franklin Richard Curtis was a
pedophile and failed to tell his mother of the man's history when she
sought advice on taking Curtis into their home. The case also breaks
new ground because the Church has for the first time disclosed the
amount and substance of the settlement of a child abuse case.
Franklin Richards Curtis, who was 87 at the time of the abuse, had
been excommunicated by the Church in Pennsylvania for previous abuse.
Church records indicate that he was rebaptized in 1984, but as a
member of the Rocky Butte Ward in Portland he then abused five
additional children. Although the Bishop of that ward confronted him,
and Curtis confessed, the Bishop never reported the abuse to the
police, and only reported the abuse to Salt Lake City when parents in
his ward complained.
Curtis then moved to the Brentwood ward, where, the Scott's allege,
he told then-Bishop Gregory Lee Foster that he had repented of
previous abuse. Bishop Foster later called Curtis to teach Sunday
School, and he eventually met Scott's mother, Sandra, and in 1990
arranged to stay with Scott family. When asked if it was a good idea
to bring Curtis into their home, Bishop Foster told Sandra Scott no,
giving financial reasons.
But Sandra Scott brought Curtis in anyway, and even had him share a
double-bed with her then-11-year-old son. As a result, Jeremiah Scott
was abused on a daily basis for about six months, the lawsuit alleges.
When the abuse was finally discovered, Sandra Scott called to warn
Bishop Foster, who, she says, told her he had known about Curtis'
previous abuse, but couldn't tell her about it because Curtis had
repented. However, the Church says that Sandra Scott misunderstood
Bishop Foster and that he was only trying to say that he had already
been told of her son's abuse and wanted to express his sympathy.
But the Scott's attorney's still maintained that the Church knew,
"It's the institution that knew," says attorney David Slader, one of
Scott's attorneys. "A church owes a very, very special and high duty
to the children of its parishoners, the children whose souls it has
taken responsibility for." He also said that the church is "the most
meticulous keeper of records in the history of religion," and should
have made information about Curtis' past abuses available to Bishop
In 1994 Curtis was convicted of the sexual abuse of Jeremiah Scott,
and died the next year while serving time. In 1998 the Scott's filed
a lawsuit blaming the Church for the abuse and alleging that the
Church knew of Curtis' prior abuse and should have informed them and
kept Curtis away from children in Church.
However, as the case prepared for a trial this Fall, the Church lost
several rulings which made its defense in the case more difficult.
These included rulings that:
- The church could be held liable for conduct committed by a member even though it didn't happen as part of a Church activity or on Church premises.
- The Church must produce records of the confessed abuse by other members in the Portland area, even though those confessions didn't have anything to do with the Scott case.
- The Scotts could argue that Curtis, as a high priest, holds the position of clergy, even though he didn't hold a formal leadership position in the Church.
- The Church must provide financial statements prior to the trial so that the court can ascertain its ability to pay, and how big a penalty is justified in the case.
The Church announced the settlement on Tuesday, as Von Keetch, the
attorney who has represented the Church in child abuse cases, met
with reporters from many newspapers and broadcast media to answer
questions about the case. Keetch admitted that the Church normally
kept the details of settlements confidential, but decided in this
case to make the settlement public, saying that the "church has
learned by experience that these cases come in to the press through
the plaintiffs. The church has a story it wanted to get out as to the
reason its settling, and that's why it decided to go forward as it
Keetch said that the church "settled this case solely on the basis of
litigation economics" and says the church "continues to expressly and
emphatically deny that it owed any legal liability" to the Scotts. He
also indicated that the most troubling of the rulings against it was
the order to produced confidential records of child abusers who had
confessed. Added to the other rulings, Keetch says, "turned a weak
claim into a potentially lengthy and expensive legal battle,
involving multiple appeals and an eventual retrial."
Caught by surprise with the Church's announcement, Sandra Scott and
the lawyers representing her son went ahead and held a planned news
conference near Temple Square in Salt Lake City where they attacked
the Church, calling it a "sanctuary for pedophiles." Sandra Scott
charged that the Church "is so concerned about its public image that
it hides the truth from me that it had recycled a known pedophile
into a position of authority in a church where he had unlimited
access to young children."
Scott, who is writing a book about her experiences, says she has made
it her mission to speak out about the way that the church has handled
sexual abuse reports. The lawyers claim that this is just the first
step in "the long struggle to expose the Mormon Church's epidemic
pattern of providing a safe and secret haven for child molesters."
They claim that Jeremiah Scott was just one of 21 victims that Curtis
abused in four different states. They also say that the Church has
faced more than 200 cases involving alleged mishandling of child
sexual abuse reports, and had planned to use these cases to claim
that the church had a pattern of failing to report, warn members
about and prevent the abuse of children. The cases include several
high-profile cases that have made the newspapers, including a West
Virginia lawsuit filed in 1996 by attorney Michael Sullivan and a
Texas lawsuit filed by attorney Clay Dugas.
But Keetch notes that many of these claims date from the 1980s,
before the Church put in place a system for annotating the records of
Child abusers in the mid 1990s, "They are ... basically criticizing
us that today we cover up child abuse based on events from the
1980s," said Keetch. "If today I confess child abuse to priesthood
leaders, my membership record will be annotated. I may be forgiven
and I may be able to repent and come back and be a member of the
church, but what I can't do is ever work with children again."
Keetch also notes that the Church has changed other procedures,
including putting an instruction in the General Handbook of
Instructions that members with records flagged for child abuse should
not be put in positions involving children. It also offers training
for clergy on child abuse and produced a training video on the
subject. Local leaders also have a hotline available where LDS family
service counselors, lawyers and other specialists answer questions
and determine what steps should be taken to comply with child abuse
reporting laws and to help victims.
He disputed the claim that the Church doesn't protect children,
"There is no religious organization which does more to protect
children - or which reaches out more to assist children who have been
physically or sexually abused - than does The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. The church strongly believes that victims of
child abuse need professional counseling, love, safety and other
forms of assistance. It provides assistance and helps victims of
child abuse in dozens of different ways. It condemns child abuse in
the strongest terms and is constantly working to assist its members
and others with this devastating societal problem."
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Mormon Church Settles $3 Million Sex Suit
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LDS Church Settles Suit, Paying $3M
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By Elizabeth Neff: Salt Lake Tribune
Child-molestation case was allegedly covered up
Child Abuse Cover-Up Costs Mormon Church $3 Million
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David Slader, Esq. Press Release
Sex Abuse Lawsuit Is Settled by Mormons for $3 Million
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By Gustav Niebuhr
Lawyer blasts LDS Church
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By Carrie A. Moore: Deseret News religion editor
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By Carrie A. Moore: Deseret News religion editor
LDS officials agree to pay $3 million
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