Judge orders Mormons to provide sex-abuse records

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by a man who says he was molested by a high priest

The Oregonian/February 9, 2001
By Michael Wilson

A Multnomah County judge has ordered the Mormon Church to turn over 25 years of internal records of sex-abuse complaints and discipline actions in the Portland area. The church is filing an emergency appeal of the order with the Oregon Supreme Court.

The ruling stems from a 1998 lawsuit by Jeremiah Scott, now 21, of Washington state. He accused a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints high priest of sexually abusing him repeatedly in 1990 and 1991, in Portland, when he was 11. The high priest was later convicted of the charges.

The high priest, Franklin Richard Curtis, was 87 at the time of the abuse and has since died. The Oregonian typically does not name sex-abuse victims, but in this case, Scott consented.

At issue is what the church knew about Curtis' past and when. Scott's lawsuit claims that the church knew of Curtis' past sex abuse when Curtis moved in with Scott's family but didn't warn them.

When he moved to Oregon, Curtis had been excommunicated from a ward in Pennsylvania for sex abuse. Curtis was rebaptized in 1984, according to court records. There are more than 20,000 wards in the world today, with an average of 300 to 500 members in each, more than 11 million in all.

Curtis became a member of the Rocky Butte Ward in Portland, where he sexually abused at least five children, according to the plaintiff's lawsuit. He was confronted by the Rocky Butte bishop and admitted the molestations. The bishop kept it quiet until parents began to complain, and then he only reported to Salt Lake City superiors of the church, not police, the complaint states.

Then Curtis joined the Brentwood Ward, where he told then-Bishop Gregory Lee Foster that he had abused in the past, and Foster kept it quiet because Curtis said he'd repented, according to the complaint. Foster had long known that Curtis also had abused his own stepchildren but still invited Curtis to teach Sunday school, the lawsuit states.

In 1989, Scott's mother, Sandra, became acquainted with Curtis through Sunday school. Curtis, then a high priest, resided in a retirement home but said he wanted to live out his days in a family's home. The mother decided to take him in and informed Foster, her bishop.

Foster told Sandra Scott that "it was not a good idea" because of Curtis' advanced age but said nothing about Curtis' history of sex abuse, the woman said in a 1999 deposition in the case. Curtis moved in in 1989, left in 1990, then returned at the end of that year. The bed he'd slept in had been dismantled, so Sandra Scott invited Curtis to sleep in the same bed as her son.

"There was no other place, and I had no reason to believe that this man was a child molester, so he stayed with my son," Sandra Scott said in the deposition.

Curtis abused the boy almost daily for about six months, according to the complaint. Jeremiah Scott later came forward after his family moved to Washington. Curtis was arrested and convicted of first-degree sex abuse and given probation in 1994. He died in 1995.

The bishop and the church are named as defendants in the lawsuit. A summary judgment hearing is scheduled for next month, but the fight about the church's internal documents could set it back.

On Jan. 24, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Ellen F. Rosenblum ordered the church to produce not only all records of Curtis, but all records of reports of sex abuse made against anyone in the Portland or East Portland wards. The order includes third-person complaints, in which someone reported suspicions of abuse between two others.

The church has argued that the material is protected under the First Amendment and confidentiality laws between a church and a penitent.

On Thursday, a new lawyer entered the case, representing an unnamed woman who was abused in Portland as a girl and is afraid of her name being disclosed.

Rosenblum suggested that the church produce the documents "in camera," meaning for the judge's eyes only, so that she may review them.

"I think this is a difficult matter, and I appreciate that your client is concerned about it, but at the same time, this is a lawsuit and it needs to move forward," Rosenblum told attorneys for the Mormon Church, who briefed church leaders in Salt Lake City by phone during a recess in Thursday's hearing.

In the meantime, the church will file its petition for a writ of mandamus with Oregon's high court this month, asking that Rosenblum's ruling be tossed out.

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