Lawyer Sees Pattern in Mormon Abuse

By Allison Landa for the Fairfield, California Daily Republic

Tim Kosnoff sees a pattern.

Last March, the Bellevue, Wash.-based attorney filed suit against the Mormon Church and a former bishop in Portland, Oregon. His client, 19-year-old Jeremiah Scott, says he was molested from ages 9 to 10. Repeatedly. By someone he trusted. By a man of God.

Scott and his mother, Sandra Scott, invited Sunday-school teacher Frank Curtis into their home nearly a decade ago to live with their family. The Scotts say that former bishop Gregory Lee Foster knew Curtis had a history of molesting children, but he covered it up, even when Sandra Scott sought his counsel before allowing Curtis to live with them.

"(The Mormons) encourage good works, and this man was elderly. He had approached my client's mother and said he wanted to live out his remaining years in a family setting and asked if he could come and move in with them," Kosnoff said in a telephone conversation. "She went to the bishop and told him what she was anticipating doing. The bishop was aware of problems with this man and never said anything, never warned her, and as a result, she invited this man into her home who proceeded to sexually abuse her son."

Similar cases

In researching the case, Kosnoff said, he found numerous sex-abuse cases involving the Mormon Church which bore a resemblance to the Scott suit - one of them local. In September 1997, prominent Fairfield physician and Mormon Church leader John Parkinson was sentenced to 6 years in prison after being convicted of 16 felony counts of sexual penetration. Parkinson was accused of giving unnecessary pelvic exams to female patients, even after being stripped of his medical license in March 1995 on grounds of negligence.

XXX XXXXXX and her mother, XXXXX XXXXXXX, testified that Parkinson gave them pelvic exams lasting nearly two hours, and that he performed the exams almost daily. XXX XXXXXX also alleged Parkinson professed romantic attraction to her and wrote her suggestive poetry.

Linda Walker, who has helped Kosnoff research cases for his suit, said the case of Lavar Rex Withers out of Rexburg, Idaho, bears resemblance to Parkinson's.

"They're both doctors, both Mormons, both abused in some of the same ways with impunity for years," she said. It was covered up by the Mormon church." It's a similar kind of situation, a doctor abusing patients," Kosnoff added.

Few local patterns

Lt. Terry Thomas of the Fairfield Police Department - the agency which investigated the Parkinson case - said it was an incident that has not, to his knowledge, been repeated." It was a unique case," Thomas said. "We certainly have not seen anything like it from a criminal standpoint." In discussing the Parkinson case, Thomas highlighted Parkinson's prominence as a doctor - and not his position in the Mormon Church - as an integral factor. "It was unique in that in my opinion, this advantage was taken of these women because of his position as a renowned physician," Thomas said. "He was not a doctor held in low esteem - he was regarded as a good doctor, considered to be one of the better ones in the area."

Thomas C. Clark, a stake president in the local Mormon community, said that he knows who Parkinson is, but added that church officials are precluded from commenting on specific cases." This can be a problem," he said of the no-commenting edict. "As a result, there can be abundant misunderstanding." Code of silence? The pattern is one of secrecy, Kosnoff said." There seems to be a real problem with the way these churches have been handling the cases," he said. "They frequently discourage the victims from going forward, circling the wagons to protect the perpetrator." It's actually worse than a code of silence."

But Bishop Dan Wanberg of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormon Church - in Vacaville said that a primary responsibility of a church is to hold its congregants to the law. That means making sure abuse is reported, he said. "If any member has broken the law of the land, we encourage them to turn themselves in. That's real important to us," Wanberg said.

Kosnoff disagreed. He said that, as with the Scott case, prior knowledge within the church walls exists in many incidents of abuse. And, he added, many cases are kept inside those walls." When they become aware that there's a problem, they won't report it to authorities," he said. "They deal with it internally, with counseling. That's foolhardy because pedophiles are a pretty hard problem. You can't just fix them that way through counseling and prayer."

Some problems are handled within the church, Clark confirmed. "If we were to learn about (criminal offenses) because a person comes to me and confesses this kind of behavior, we would take internal action concerning that individual," he said. "But unless the individual authorized us, we are not obliged by California law to disclose that information. "So how would Clark have handled the Portland case, in which the church is being accused of covering up a past history of abuse?

"My own approach would be to talk to the individual who had the history of misconduct and I would explain that in my view, it's a poor idea to be in that situation (of living with a young boy) and pretty much make it clear that he should not consider it," Clark said. "I think that would probably resolve the situation. It would be a situation where I wouldn't necessarily have to say anything about it, but by one means or another make it so the (abuse) didn't happen."

'Not your typical church'

Fairfield's Mormon community was greatly affected - and deeply divided - by the Parkinson trial and by the Collins' accusations. Both XXXXXX and XXX XXXXXX were once outspoken supporters of Parkinson, with XXXXX XXXXXXX even testifying before the state Medical Board when his license was in jeopardy.Such support occurs because the Mormon Church is a uniquely tight-knit organization, Kosnoff said."This is not like your typical Protestant church. This is a life system that they have in place, and it requires the surrendering of an incredible amount of individual autonomy."

"Not so", Wanberg said. In fact, membership in the church is contingent upon obeying the law, he contends. Parkinson's crime, Wanberg said, would be grounds for excommunication - "If it can be verified."

'Allows pedophiles to flourish'

Before Frank Curtis allegedly molested Jeremiah Scott, he had been previously arrested and pleaded no contest to a charge of first-degree sexual abuse, the Idaho Post-Register newspaper reported in March. By keeping Curtis's arrest record secret, the church's former bishop allowed a malevolent and silent pattern of abuse to continue, Kosnoff charged. "The structure allows pedophiles, I believe, to flourish," he said. "The church has been on notice for about 10 years. Their lay clergy are not effectively dealing with the problem."

Clark couldn't disagree more, saying that that doesn't happen locally. "I hear this stuff about old-boy protectionism and church leaders who are trying to protect someone who is a transgressor," he said. "I've been serving in the Mormon Church (in the Bay Area) in one capacity or another for 30 years, and I've never seen anyone I personally know about ever try to do that kind of thing. It is not the sort of thing I've ever seen happen, and certainly would not happen because of some institutional prejudice in one way or another. "The directions we receive as leaders are very extremely clear. We view ourselves as being the Savior's servants, and His concern for children, women and the defenseless is immense."

But Tim Kosnoff doesn't buy that argument - and he'll tell that to the judge in Portland. "The big question is why they cannot make the changes necessary to protect their kids," he said.

"Why won't they?"

"They're just in denial."

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