Wife files $9.5M lawsuit against Mormon church for reporting husband’s sexual abuse of daughter

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and conference goers sing at the first session of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 185th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah April 4, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/George Frey)

The wife of a Mormon man who confessed to leaders of his church that he sexually abused his underage daughter has filed a $9.5 million lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for violating his confidence and reporting him to authorities.

The man, Timothy Samuel Johnson, 47, and his wife, Kristine Johnson, were members of a Stayton ward when his wife learned he had "engaged in inappropriate conduct" with a minor known to him, the lawsuit cited in the Statesman Journal said.

Johnson, the lawsuit explained, told a local church panel in Oregon about the molestation in 2016 to “repent for his sins.” He also sought spiritual help “to bring peace within his life and family.”

In 2017, however, he was arrested, charged and later convicted in 2018 of four counts of second-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

"(Clergy) knew or should have known that violating the doctrine of confidentiality under the circumstances alleged in this complaint would most certainly injure (his wife and children) financially," Kristine Johnson's criminal defense attorney, Bill Brandt, told the Statesman Journal.

Also listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are four of the couple’s five children whom she says have all been deprived of her husband’s “companionship, society, love, affection” and financial support. The fifth child is the victim who was molested by her father for four years during her pre-teen and teenage years, The Oregonian said.

The lawsuit requests $5.5 million for Timothy Johnson’s wife for loss of his income and for extreme emotional distress, as well as $1 million for each of his four children. It also asks for $40,000 to pay for Brandt’s work on the case.

Brandt told The Washington Post Wednesday night that the impact of losing the family’s main breadwinner “has been devastating, emotionally and financially.”

When she discovered her husband’s sin they chose to let the church handle the situation because, “They firmly believe that they can deal with their parishioners better than law enforcement.”

While Oregon has mandatory reporting laws for certain professions, including clergy and pharmacists, confessional-style "clergy-penitent privilege" is an exemption to mandatory reporting laws and Kristine Johnson's case is arguing that there was a violation of that privilege.

The Utah-based Mormon church listed as the sole defendant in the lawsuit said in a statement from spokesman Eric Hawkins that one of its top priorities is “protecting victims and ensuring proper reporting."

“The [LDS] Church teaches that leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities,” Hawkins said. "In some circumstances, those obligations may be governed by their professional duty and in others by their role as clergy. The Church has a 24-hour abuse help line to help leaders understand and meet both their professional and ecclesiastical obligations to report abuse. We are grateful for the efforts of law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and pursue justice for those who were abused.”

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