Man accusing Mormon missionary of 1960s sex abuse wants trial

Associated Press/December 31, 2007

Sioux Falls -- A federal lawsuit against the Mormon church should proceed to trial and not be decided by a judge, according to the lawyer for a man accusing a missionary of sexual abuse.

Ferris Joseph, 52, filed the civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in South Dakota against the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, both of Utah.

Joseph said that in the late 1960s, when he was 11 or 12 years old, he was sexually abused by one of the church's missionaries, Robert Lewis White.

Joseph is an American Indian who lived with his family in Sioux Falls from 1966 to 1968, according to the lawsuit. The abuse happened at White's apartment in Flandreau, it states.

White was based at the Northern Indian Mission in Rapid City and was assigned to Flandreau, in eastern South Dakota, where the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is located.

Joseph had no memory of the abuse until an October 2004 visit to Canada to see his sister, a devout member of the Mormon church, according to the complaint.

In a deposition transcript filed in court, White denies he sexually abused Joseph or any other boy, and testified that he was celibate when he served in Flandreau from Nov. 8, 1967, and July 13, 1968.

The civil case is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 25 in Sioux Falls.

James McMahon, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing the Mormon church, filed a motion for summary judgment, in effect asking a federal judge to rule on the case before the trial because of a lack of evidence.

But Adam Horowitz, a Miami attorney representing Joseph, filed court documents last week arguing that the summary judgment should not be granted and the case should go before jurors.

The First Amendment does not protect the church from liability; the church can be held financially responsible because it had a duty to prevent its missionaries from doing harm; and the statute of limitations has not expired because the lawsuit was filed within three years of Joseph recalling the abuse, Horowitz wrote.

"In this case what we presented to the court is the trauma of the childhood abuse caused our client to repress his memory of the abuse until October 2004," he said.

McMahon could not be reached for comment.

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