Editor’s note: Kosnoff Fasy, together with attorney Robert Fitzsimmons from Wheeling, West Virginia and attorney Carl Kravitz from the Washington, D.C. law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder, filed a civil lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saints on behalf of a dozen sexually abused minor children, alleging that church officials failed to protect them from a known sexual predator they allowed to serve as a babysitter for church families.
The following is an article, which appeared in the Journal-News from Martinsburg, West Virginia.
“Lawsuit filed against church for cover-up of sex abuse
October 25, 2013
By Edward Marshall (firstname.lastname@example.org) , journal-news.net
MARTINSBURG – A lawsuit filed in Berkeley County against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church, and local church officials accuses church leaders of covering up allegations that the son of local church officials sexually abused 12 children over the course of more than five years.
Christopher Michael Jensen, 22, of Cheswick Drive, Martinsburg, was found guilty of one count of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of sexual abuse by a custodian Feb. 6 following a jury trial in Berkeley County Circuit Court.
The criminal charges involved only two of the 12 children suing the church, who were ages 3 and 4 at the time of the abuse.
Jensen was sentenced July 29 to 35 to 75 years in prison. He was the son of a church high priest in the church’s Hedgesville Ward and his mother previously served as a local Relief Society president with the church. The suit accuses church leaders of holding out Jensen as a church member who could provide leadership and counsel to young church members, even though the church was allegedly repeatedly put on notice or had knowledge about allegations that Jensen had sexually abused children of church families. The suit also accuses church officials of recommending Jensen as a babysitter for church families, despite allegedly being made aware of sexual abuse allegations as early as 2007.
The children suing the church were between the ages of 3 and 12 when they say they were sexually abused by Jensen.
The suit names the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the church; Don Fishel, who was the bishop of the Hedgesville Ward for the Martinsburg stake of the church between 2007 and 2013 and a former member of the Stake High Council for Martinsburg; Steven Grow, stake president in Martinsburg; Jensen, who was a member and elder of the Hedgesville Ward of the church; Jensen’s father, a high priest and member of the Stake High Council for Martinsburg between 2007 and 2010;
and Jensen’s mother, a member of the Hedgesville Ward and Relief Society president for the church in Martinsburg between 2006 and 2009.
The Mormon Church is divided into various “wards” and “stakes.” At the local level are wards, consisting of a geographic area administered by a bishop and two counselors. A cluster of eight to 12 wards is grouped into a stake, which is administered by a stake president. The Relief Society is the official adult women’s organization of the church and members are considered to be spiritual leaders appointed by a ward bishop.
A stake, including the wards within a stake, is governed by the stake president and the Stake High Council, a body of 12 high priests.
In 2007, before the alleged abuse of the children suing the church began, Martinsburg’s Stake High Council – whose members included Grow, Fishel and Jensen’s parents -held a meeting, during which the alleged sexual abuse of two children by Jensen was allegedly discussed, a copy of the suit reads.
The council allegedly failed to report the allegations of abuse to authorities, as required by law, and Fishel denied the allegations as hearsay. Jensen’s parents allegedly learned that their son was sexually abusing at least one child sometime between 2006 and 2007.
After learning of the abuse, Jensen’s parents allegedly banished him from the family home and made him sleep in the backyard but, at the time, allegedly encouraged church families to use their son as a babysitter, the suit reads.
In early 2008, one of the victims suing the church, a 4-year-old boy, told Jensen’s mother that Jensen had sexually abused him. In 2008, Fishel, who was also allegedly already put on notice that Jensen had been accused of sexually abusing children, was told by the mother of another alleged victim that Jensen had abused her younger son.
The suit alleges that instead of reporting the abuse to authorities or taking action to warn or protect other children, the church, through its agents, took the opposite approach. The suit accuses the church and church leaders of actively covering up the abuse and assisting Jensen in committing further acts by enabling him to babysit for and live with other church families with young children. The pattern allegedly continued for more than five years until Jensen was indicted in 2012 in Berkeley County.
The suit says the church has not accepted responsibility for what it allegedly did or failed to do, despite allegedly being confronted with information about the alleged abuse on several occasions.
The suit also alleges that the church has continued its cover up, sending emissaries from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Martinsburg to instruct witnesses not to talk with attorneys representing the children suing the church.
In addition, the suit alleges that the church, through its leaders, has tried to intimidate the families of the children suing the church and has allegedly directed fellow church members to try to convince them to abandon their claims “lest they run afoul of church teachings regarding forgiveness,” a copy of the suit reads.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. The Mormon Church receives $5 billion to $7 billion per year in tithing from members and Time magazine estimated in 2001 that the Mormon Church owned financial assets and real estate in excess of $120 billion, according to the suit.
“Punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages, are not only warranted in these circumstances, but also are necessary to send a message to this institution and its agents that abusing young children is not acceptable, that compliance with secular laws requiring that sex abuse be reported to the authorities is mandatory and that the church’s self-interest cannot be elevated over the needs of young children,” a copy of the suit reads.
On Aug. 18, the Martinsburg Stake High Council excommunicated Jensen from the church.
-Staff writer Edward Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182.”
FOR FURTHER READING:
Read the lawsuit here: 2013-10-24 — Jane Doe-1 et al v LDS, Berkeley County, West Virginia, Civil Action Number 13-C-656