Sex Case May Pry Open Finances of LDS Church

The Salt Lake Tribune/July 17, 2001
By Elizabeth Neff

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fighting to keep its finances confidential in an Oregon lawsuit seeking more than $1.5 billion in damages from the church.

Plaintiff Jeremiah Scott, 22, of California, sued the church in Oregon state court after an LDS ward Sunday school teacher was convicted of repeatedly sexually abusing him in Portland when he was 11 years old. The suit alleges negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming church officials knew Franklin Richard Curtis was a pedophile, but did not warn Scott's parents before they took Curtis into their home.

Church attorneys have told Scott the church is able to pay punitive damages of $162 million, or twice the amount of the largest punitive damages award in Oregon history. But they say his request that the church produce any documents it has detailing income and financial interests, including tithing revenue and property values, goes too far.

The church, which stopped releasing financial information in 1959, contends such disclosures would violate its First Amendment right to operate free from government entanglement.

A Multnomah County judge in May allowed Scott to seek punitive damages, after his attorneys argued Scott's case and others like it showed a pattern within the church of failing to report, warn members about and prevent the sexual abuse of children. "This case is about making the church live by the same laws the rest of us have to in protecting children," said lawyer Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who represents Scott together with Bellevue, Wash., attorney Timothy Kosnoff.

The church, represented by Portland attorney Stephen English, flatly refutes the claim. "There is no pattern of protecting child abusers of any kind in the church," English said. "That is nonsense." Earlier this month, church attorneys asked Judge Ellen Rosenblum to rule that the church will not be required to disclose its finances. At most, any financial information required to be disclosed should be limited to Oregon, the attorneys said.

Determining the value of properties with "infinite spiritual and symbolic value to the church," such as Temple Square in Salt Lake City, would be impossible, their written request added. Scott's attorneys counter the church's net worth is a factor in determining how much he should seek in punitive damages. Anderson said he is not asking the church to appraise its assets for the lawsuit, but to simply turn over any financial documentation it may already have.

In 1999, authors Richard and Joan Ostling estimated the church's assets at nearly $30 billion in Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. They expanded on research by John Heineman and Anson Shupe, authors of "The Mormon Corporate Empire: The Eye-Opening Report on the Church and Its Political and Financial Agenda," published in 1985.

In 1990, Scott's mother, Sandra Scott, asked then-Bishop Gregory Lee Foster for advice about taking Curtis in, and he told her "it was not a good idea" due to the 87-year-old Curtis' age, she said in a 1999 deposition.

The lawsuit claims Foster knew Curtis had a history of sexually abusing children dating back to the 1970s, but gave him access to young children as a teacher and did not warn parents, including Scott, because Curtis had repented. He died in 1995.

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