Salem, OR – The wife of a convicted child rapist is seeking a $9.5 million payday from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for failing to warn her husband that his confession would be reported to police.
In the lawsuit, which was recently filed in Marion County Circuit Court, Kristine Johnson alleged that the church of violated its own confidentiality policy by reporting to police that her husband, 47-year-old Timothy Johnson, had confessed that he sexually abused their daughter, The Oregonian reported.
Kristine said that in 2016, she learned that her husband molested one of their five children for a period of four years during her pre-teen and early teenage years.
"In response to that, plaintiff Kristine Johnson and Timothy Johnson followed the rules and scriptures of the church, which…requires and admonish church members to 'confess their sins unto the brethren before the Lord,'" the lawsuit read, according to CNN.
Timothy subsequently told a panel of church members about his offenses in an attempt to “repent for his sins” and to “bring peace within his life and family,” the lawsuit read, according to The Oregonian.
Details of his confession were turned over to police, which resulted in Timothy being arrested in 2017.
The following year, he was convicted of four counts of second-degree sexual abuse, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In her lawsuit, Kristine declared that the church should have warned Timothy that his confession would not remain confidential, CNN reported.
She is seeking $9.5 million for her family’s loss of Timothy’s “companionship, society, love [and] affection,” emotional distress, and loss of income, as well as another $40,000 to pay for his defense attorney fees, according to The Oregonian.
Members of the clergy are mandated to report cases of alleged or suspected child abuse or neglect under Oregon law, but the law allows for some exceptions regarding clergy members who learn about abuse during “privileged” communications.
The church member who reported the abuse is also pharmacist, which is another mandatory reporting profession, The Oregonian reported.
The church stood by its actions, and said that “protecting victims and ensuring proper reporting” are among its top priorities.
“The Church teaches that leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins told The Oregonian in a statement. "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,” Hawkins added.
Bill Brandt, the attorney representing Kristine and her other four children, said that the church is guilty of breaking a “promise,” and that they had an obligation to warn Timothy that his confession would be reported to police, The Oregonian reported.
“It’s been devastating on the family,” Brandt told the Salem Statesman Journal. “They lost a husband and a father.”