Mormon church sued over sex abuse allegations

The alleged incidents took place back in the 1970s at a Woodburn LDS church

Woodburn Independent, Oregon/December 15, 2009

Woodburn - A former Woodburn resident has alleged he was sexually abused by a local music teacher at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Woodburn.

The alleged victim, who has called himself David Doe, is now 46 years old. He says the abuse took place at a Mormon church in Woodburn, between the ages of 11 and 13.

He claims Michael Simms, a Mormon church organist and music teacher, abused him about 100 times between 1974 and 1976. Simms was in his early 20s at the time.

"(He) gained the family's trust and confidence as an educational and spiritual guide, and as a valuable and trustworthy mentor," reads the complaint, which was filed November 16.

"Using the authority and position of trust as organist and music teacher " (he) induced and directed plaintiff David Doe to engage in various sexual acts with (him)."

Those acts, according to the complaint, included forced oral sex, fondling and digital sodomy.

Doe is now suing Simms, the LDS church and a former therapist, for up to $4.25 million on claims of sexual abuse of a child, intentional infliction of emotional distress and two forms of negligence (failure to protect and failure to report).

His attorney, Kelly Clark, of Portland, said it is hard to quantify how Doe has been damaged.

He said his problems are far-reaching.

"It's immediately apparent when you talk to him that he's a deeply injured person," said Clark.

"He has had serious problems with drugs and alcohol over his life. He has had serious and ongoing unease with his sexual orientation. He suffers from AIDS.

"It would be very difficult to conclude that there was no connection," the Portland attorney said, of the abuse Doe says took place.

According to attorney Steve English, who represents the Mormon church, LDS leaders do not condone the allegations.

"The LDS church absolutely condemns any of this abuse and the church extends its heartfelt sympathy for any individuals who have suffered from abuse," said English.

"That said, these incidents are incidents which took place apparently decades ago and we are now in the position of trying to find out what happened and how it happened.

"The fact that these incidents are decades old makes it challenging to uncover at this point in time witnesses, memories, and the like, but we're going to do our best to find out happened."

English added that, given the fact that Simms was not a member of the LDS clergy, officials would have to "seriously investigate" whether the church would be responsible for someone simply because they participated in a "non-authority role in the church."

"A church organist is not a person who has the spiritual authority of clergy," said English. "" The church would condemn this conduct, but legally we would not have responsibility for that."

The negligence claims stem from allegations that Doe's mother approached a then-Stake President (a former LDS bishop) in 1975, and told him about the abuse. According to Doe, the LDS defendants failed to investigate the allegations, remove Simms from his position, report the abuse to law enforcement, or take measures to prevent continuation of the abuse.

"There was a certain sense back in those days, I think, in the Mormon church that, 'we'll handle it,'" said Clark.

"'Trust your bishop, we'll handle it.' That was maybe not so much fear of the church looking bad as just the mentality that, 'those kinds of rules don't apply to us.'"

Clark said one of the greatest opportunities lost to Doe is the help he might have gotten.

"If it had been reported to law enforcement, somebody would have gotten that kid into counseling," said Clark. "Granted, that he had already been abused. (But) what would it have saved him in terms of suffering if somebody had gotten him into some good counseling right away?"

The complaint also makes a claim against Richard Bolton, who was a mental health counselor for Doe around 1977. Doe said he told Bolton about the molestation and he too failed to report it to law enforcement.

Doe moved away from Woodburn as a teenager, Clark said. He does not believe he ever returned to Woodburn to live.

Simms' last-known address is in Troy, Mich. It is unknown if he is still alive or, if so, whether he has been served with the complaint.

Clark's office has not heard from any legal representation for Simms.

Clark said his client continues to feel the impacts of the abuse, being "curiously dedicated to the ideals of the Mormon church," and "tormented spiritually" regarding what allegedly took place.

When asked if he thinks there are other victims, Clark said he would be "surprised if there weren't."

"Legally, we have no evidence of that yet," said Clark. "Practically speaking, I've never seen one of these situations where there was only one victim.

"One of the reasons that my client instructed me to make sure this lawsuit got public was so that someone else might be freed of their demons " that if there are other victims out there, that they would get the help they need."

He added that the overarching goal of the lawsuit for Doe is prevention.

"My client recognizes that there are many good people in the LDS church," said Clark.

"But we believe " one of the best ways to help prevent future child abuse is to expose mistakes in the past. " It is both about individual justice and it is about future prevention."

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