PORTLAND, Ore. — Lawyers for an Oregon man who claims the Mormon church is responsible for sexual abuse he suffered as a child said Wednesday a $3 million settlement will open the way for other child-abuse lawsuits against the church.
David Slader, who represents 22-year-old Jeremiah Scott, said the Salt Lake City-based church settled to avoid publicity.
“The settlement provides some measure of compensation but not the complete accountability that we have discovered is so necessary,” he said in Portland on Wednesday.
The group also held an afternoon news conference in Salt Lake City on the plaza in front of the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple.
“This is not a safe church for your children. This is a safe haven for pedophiles,” attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., told reporters.
The church’s attorney, Von Keetch, quickly responded to the allegations, calling them baseless.
“Plaintiff’s counsel are clearly out of control here,” he said. “They’ve made some outrageous, defamatory and possibly even legally actionable statements which do not contain one ounce of truth.”
Under the agreement reached Friday, the religion’s officials do not accept any blame for abuse that occurred when Scott was 11.
Scott sued The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an Oregon court after a fellow ward member was convicted of repeatedly sexually abusing him in Portland. The suit claims church officials knew Franklin Richard Curtis was a pedophile but did not warn Scott’s mother before she took Curtis into their home.
Curtis, who died in 1995, was 87 at the time of the abuse. He was arrested and convicted of sex abuse and given probation in 1994.
The case against the church was scheduled to go to trial this fall.
Jeremiah’s mother Sandra Scott said she accepted the settlement to protect the privacy of her son.
“I will spend my dying days, my last breath, warning Mormon parents” about child abuse in the church, she said in an emotional statement at a Portland news conference Wednesday.
Slader and attorneys Anderson and Timothy Kosnoff, of Bellevue, Wash., say they have identified 21 other victims abused by Curtis throughout the country, including 11 in Oregon. Others were in Grand Rapids, Mich., Harrisburg, Pa., and Sheridan, Wyo.
Kosnoff said other lawsuits involving these cases and others will likely be forthcoming, and that the Mormon church has the potential to be “far worse than the Catholic church” for abuse.
“I think this is going to be on the radar screen for a lot of attorneys,” Kosnoff said.
Church attorney Keetch said Tuesday said the settlement was simply less expensive than taking the case through the courts and an appeals process.
In addition to the financial considerations of continuing the legal battle, the church decided to settle because of what they described as several bad rulings by Multnomah County Circuit Judge Ellen F. Rosenblum.
Keetch had said Rosenblum had allowed the Mormon church to be held liable for the conduct of one member against another when the abuse did not occur as part of a church activity or on church property. Keetch said Rosenblum was the first judge in the country to make such a ruling.
The ruling is important because the Mormon church has a collective clergy, in which many older men in the congregation are designated as high priests. Keetch said the church confers the title on most men in their 40s and carries no particular leadership responsibility.
The attorneys’ Salt Lake City news conference also drew the attention of police, who were called after the attorneys said they would not move from the church plaza.
The group was told they would receive trespassing citations by mail.
The plaza, formerly a part of Main Street, was declared private church property after the American Civil Liberties Union sued to stop the sale of the block to the church.
Stephen Clark, an attorney for ACLU’s Utah chapter, said it would be the first time that he’s heard of that someone was cited for trespassing on the plaza.