In October 2004, while visiting his sister in Canada, Ferris Joseph suddenly decided he was "molested" by a Mormon missionary back in the 1960s. Now, he wants the LDS Church to pay for that memory. But the former Mormon missionary denies the allegation, and the church wants a federal judge to decide the case before it goes to trial. Stories published December 16th, 2007 in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News, and aired on KSL Channel 5 in Salt Lake.
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 claims he was sexually abused by one of its missionaries, Robert Lewis White, in the late 1960s when Joseph was 11 or 12 years old. Visit the Justia.com website to see all the legal documents filed in this case so far.
Joseph is an American Indian who lived with his family in Sioux Falls from 1966 to 1968, according to the lawsuit. The abuse allegedly happened at White's apartment in Flandreau. 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 LDS 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 November 8th, 1967 until July 13th, 1968. White's companion missionary at the time, Jay Larson, also testified that the two men followed the church's rule to stay in sight of each other at all times, and that he had no memory of White ever acting inappropriately, according to court documents. [Ed. Note: This case illustrates perfectly the wisdom of the Church's policy that no missionary is to ever be alone while out in the field.]
Although the civil case is scheduled to go to trial on February 25th in Sioux Falls, James McMahon, the Sioux Falls lawyer representing the church, has 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. McMahon specializes in civil litigation defense.
The statute of limitations has expired and the law does not hold a church financially responsible for the actions of its volunteer missionaries who have to support themselves. Specifically, the motion states, "Courts throughout the country have refused to recognize the existence of a fiduciary relationship between a religious organization and its members based solely on religions teachings or faith".
Neither McMahon nor Adam Horowitz of Miami, who is one of Joseph's lawyers, chose to comment on the case. The law firm for which Horowitz works, Herman & Mermelstein, has successfully litigated against church organizations in the past, extracting $5 million from the Archdiocese of Miami, and $1.5 million from the Diocese of Orlando and from the Diocese of St. Augustine as a result of a number of cases of clerical sex abuse. In the Miami case, Herman & Mermelstein were able to successfully avoid the statute of limitations and gain "justice" for their clients although the abuse took place decades ago.
This is the second high-profile sex abuse case this year in which the LDS Church is involved. The other is a case out in Oregon, which, according to Reuters on October 3rd, 2007, now involves six men who allege that Timur Dykes, a former spiritual leader in the LDS Church and a former scout leader, repeatedly abused them when they were boys. However, Dykes, a convicted sex offender who is listed on Multnomah County's registered sex offender Web page, has not been named as a defendant in this suit. This is the same case where a judge ordered the LDS Church to publicly reveal its finances.
A Portland attorney, Kelly Clark, has established the MormonAbuse.com website, a resource dedicated to justice and healing for survivors of child sexual abuse arising out of the LDS Church. Clark has handled over 150 cases of childhood sexual abuse, including cases against the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and other churches, youth organizations, and a wide variety of other “institutions of trust.” To see a full listing of the extensive work on child sexual abuses cases Kelly Clark has handled, click here. The variety of targets implies that Clark does NOT have a particular axe to grind against the LDS Church itself.
These cases stem from alleged events decades ago when awareness of and sensitivity to sex abuse issues was not as high. In response to the increased level of public interest, the LDS Church has firmed up their policy against sex abuse. They now have a zero tolerance policy, spelled out on the official Church website. Here's the pertinent excerpt:
Simply put, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to child abusers. When abuse is suspected, the Church directs its members to first contact the legal authorities and then their local bishop for counseling and support. The Church cooperates fully with law enforcement in investigating incidents of child abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice.
Members of the Church found guilty of child abuse are also subject to the laws of God. President Hinckley has said: "Our hearts reach out to the offender, but we cannot tolerate the sin of which he may be guilty. Where there has been offense, there is a penalty." Convicted child abusers are excommunicated, the highest possible discipline our faith can impose. Excommunicated members cannot take part in Church meetings or hold responsibilities of any kind within the congregation.
Can child abusers who have paid the legal price for their crimes and gone through a rigorous repentance process with local Church leaders become members of the Church again? Yes. As Christians, we believe in forgiveness. But can they ever again, in their lifetime, serve in any capacity that would put them in direct contact with children? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove the consequences of sin. Protection of the family is a first principle of the Church.
Since 1995 the Church has placed a confidential annotation on the membership record of members who previously abused children. These records follow them to any congregation where they move, thereby alerting bishops not to place them in situations with children. As far as we know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first religious institution to create such a tracking mechanism. We hold the family sacred and protect its children. This explains why the Church is one of the few denominations that imposes formal ecclesiastical discipline on mere members (as opposed to official clergy) for sexually abusive conduct.
Clearly, the LDS Church has taken all reasonable measures it can be expected to implement in order to minimize the possibility of child abuse within its ranks. However, members are responsible for bringing such matters to the attention of Church leadership as well as to the appropriate secular authorities. The Church cannot act if occurrences are not brought to its attention. Waiting for 40 years and then socking the Church with a mega-lawsuit is not the best way to go.
How Ferris Joseph suddenly "remembered" this sex abuse has not been disclosed. Many cases of "childhood sexual abuse" have been "uncovered" through what is called Recovered Memory Therapy. This is an extremely controversial form of therapy which is being discredited, due to the increasing incidence of False Memory Syndrome. The usual sequence is that the therapist finds that the subject was not only subjected to serial abuse as a child, but was put through Satanic rituals and now has a gazillion personalities. Of course, introducing Satan into the equation immediately casts doubts upon the integrity of the entire process. Preachers are better equipped to deal with Satan than therapists.
One of the saddest examples of this problem was a lady named Martha Beck, who suddenly decided late in life that she had been molested by her father, the late Hugh Nibley, a famed Mormon scholar. Worse yet, she wrote a vitriolic anti-Mormon screed entitled "Leaving The Saints", in which she plasters her allegations on nearly every page. I read this book at my local public library (I'll be damned if I buy it and put money into her pocket), and it was one of the most disorganized, incoherent pieces of garbage I've ever read. I didn't even have the stomach to finish it. Beck traded her Mormonism in on some inchoate New Age mishmash cult. And by doing this, she has deliberately cut herself off from every member of her immediately family, all of whom strongly insist that NO abuse occurred.
Hopefully, Ferris Joseph's ridiculous case will be quashed straightaway.