Missionary sued in alleged sex abuse

Mormon Church also named in civil action

Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky/January 30, 2007
By Beth Musgrave

A Lee County woman is suing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one of its missionaries over the alleged sexual abuse of her son.

Jason Stark of Idaho was on a two-year missionary trip to Kentucky and Indiana when he allegedly sexually abused three young men in 2005. Stark was charged in Lee County with two counts of sodomy and one count of attempted sodomy last February.

His criminal trial is scheduled for July 16.

The woman said in court documents that Stark's conduct has damaged her son psychologically, socially and mentally. The boy, who is younger than 18, has suffered public scorn, ridicule and embarrassment because of Stark. She is asking for unspecified damages.

The Herald-Leader does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The case was originally filed in Lee Circuit Court in December. The Mormon church asked last week that the case be moved to federal court.

After Stark's arrest, the church issued a statement saying he had "been released from his missionary duties" pending the outcome of the trial. He is out on bond.

In the statement issued in March, the church said, "We abhor and condemn child abuse or mistreatment of any type in the strongest terms and have established a number of programs to assist local church leaders in preventing abuse and caring for victims."

In court documents, the church argues that the case should be dismissed. It says some of the claims might be barred by statute of limitations, and that it cannot be held responsible for actions of someone not necessarily under its control.

The church also contends that the lawsuit violates its "rights of freedom of religion" as guaranteed under the U.S. and state constitutions.

In a statement, Jon Fleischaker, who represents the church, said Stark "continues to dispute the allegations and a criminal trial is pending." Because of that, he said it would not be appropriate for the church to comment on the civil suit.

Michael Stidham, a Jackson lawyer who represents the mother and son, said he has not seen the church's response to the lawsuit, but that he does not understand how freedom of religion can translate to protection against lawsuits when a member of the church commits a crime.

"I don't think freedom of religion gives you the right to sexually abuse a minor," Stidham said.

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