Mormon Church accused of failure to report sexual abuse

June 11, 2002
By Rick Ross

A lawsuit recently filed against the Mormon Church alleges it failed to properly deal with a sex abuser and report his crimes to police. A woman and her son in Salt Lake City filed the suit.

George K. Tilson of Salt Lake City is alleged to abused both the mother and her son. And the plaintiffs claim this was part of Tilson's 39-year history of sexual abuse. Tilson eventually plead guilty to third-degree attempted sexual abuse of a child in 1996, a felony. He served a jail sentence and was excommunicated from the Mormon Church.

The suit states Tilson's sexual abuse was reported to Mormon leaders. But "In each instance...the [church], its bishops, stake presidents and other servants and agents failed and refused to report the child abuse to the police or civil authorities knowing, or having reason to know, that, as a direct result of their failure to report Tilson's activity, numerous children were being sexual abused, and would likely be raped, sodomized and otherwise sexually abused in the future."

The suit also claims that Tilson retained not only his status in the Mormon priesthood despite serious complaints, but also his positions as a Boy Scout leader and other roles he held within the church, which gave him continued access to children.

Mormon Church officials denied any responsibility. Church lawyer Von Keetch acknowledged learning about the allegations in late 2001. He said the mother "called us, she asked for our help and now we get an allegation made by attorneys that want to play a game.

The lawsuit also claims that the plaintiffs were pressured by church officials to only receive counseling within the Mormon church's own social service network. And it details how such counseling encourages forgiving the abuser, not filing a report with the police and to "remain publicly quiet about the abuse."

The plaintiffs have now filed a complaint with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, but the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has not said what action will be taken.

David Clohessy of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) commenting about the lawsuit said, "Abuse thrives in secrecy." And he encouraged Mormon leaders, "to use this teachable moment, at this time when the public's attention is focused on abuse by religious leaders, to learn of the painful mistakes that have been made by so many Catholic bishops and leaders across the country."

The Mormon church has faced similar legal actions previously in Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia. However, some of these claims were settled quietly and confidentially. However, it was disclosed last year that a plaintiff in Portland, Oregon received a $3 million settlement from the church.

Note: This article was largely based upon "Suit: Church Hushed Up Abuse"Salt Lake Tribune, June 5, 2002, By Peg McEntee

Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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