DAVID Clohessy, who spent 30 years championing the rights of victims of clergy abuse, has criticised a lawsuit brought against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The lawsuit alleges that the church wrecked the life of a man who sexually abused his daughter by reporting the matter the the authorities in Oregon. As a consequence the man was convicted in 2018 on four counts of second-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to 15 years.
Clohessy, above, former national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said that instead of being sued:
The church should be thanked for doing the right thing.
It’s not just a parent’s job to protect their kids from predators, it’s the job of every single adult. So adults who do put the safety of kids first should be applauded not penalized.
The lawsuit was launched by the abuser’s wife who alleges that a clergy member violated a promise of confidentiality by reporting her husband to the authorities.
The husband told a local church panel about the molestation in 2016 to “repent for his sins” under the eyes of God and to seek spiritual healing “to bring peace within his life and family.”
Instead, he was arrested and charged in 2017 and convicted in 2018.
In addition to the wife, the lawsuit lists four of her children as plaintiffs, saying they all have been deprived of her husband’s “companionship, society, love, affection” and financial support.
Not listed is the couple’s fifth child, who was molested by her father over four years when she was a pre-teen and teenager, according to criminal case records.
The lawsuit seeks $9.5 million for the family’s emotional distress and lost income and $40,000 for the money spent on a criminal defence lawyer to represent the husband on the child molestation charges.
Clohessy said he believes the woman has misplaced her blame.
She should be grateful to the church officials, rather than bitter.
The couple were part of a ward in the Marion County town of Stayton, home to about 8,100 residents 15 miles southeast of Salem. Neither the woman who filed the lawsuit nor her husband are being names in order to protect the identify their abused daughter.
A spokesman for the Utah-based Mormon church, which is listed as the sole defendant, said in a statement that one of its top priorities is:
Protecting victims and ensuring proper reporting. The Church teaches that leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said:
In some circumstances, those obligations may be governed by their professional duty and in others by their role as clergy. The Church has a 24-hour abuse help line to help leaders understand and meet both their professional and ecclesiastical obligations to report abuse. We are grateful for the efforts of law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and pursue justice for those who were abused.
Bill Brandt, the Salem attorney representing the woman and her four children, said the lawsuit isn’t basing its claims on Oregon’s mandatory reporting law. Rather, it faults the church for a breach of confidentiality, he said.
Brandt said the church teaches members that they must confess their transgressions “to get back in good favor with the church.” After they do, the church will offer counseling and set requirements that must be met to address the transgressions. That all is supposed to happen within the confines of the church, which assured the family that the confession would remain private, he said.
Brandt said church leaders had an obligation to warn the husband that he would likely be reported, and claimed the family has struggled financially since the husband was sent to prison. Now 47, he resides at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton.
Legal experts said the Oregon lawsuit is rare because it faults a clergy member for reporting a crime.
Christine Bartholomew, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law, said while it might be surprising, many clergy do want to testify about supposedly privileged communications, especially if the information they have to share is about violent crimes that have been committed.
Bartholomew said the lawsuit against the Mormon church could discourage clergy members from reporting child abuse out of concern that they’ll be sued.
If successful, this litigation would push courts and these religious organizations toward less transparency than more. And you have to wonder if that would create the environment where abuse can really fester.