Wife Sues Church for Reporting Hubby's Child Sex Abuse

Oregon suit claims 'priest-penitent privilege' was violated in case of Timothy Johnson
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2020 9:15 AM CST
Wife Sues Church for Reporting Hubby's Child Sex Abuse
The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, is pictured in silhouette on Jan. 3, 2018.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Various lawsuits have accused clergy members of seeing sex abuse as more of a sin than a crime. A new one, however, claims quite the opposite. An Oregon woman is suing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for $9.5 million, arguing church leaders violated "priest-penitent privilege" in going to authorities after her husband confessed to repeated sexual contact with a minor, reports the Salem Statesman Journal. Timothy Samuel Johnson of the Stayton ward repented his sins before clergy, a move dictated by church doctrine, per the lawsuit. Church doctrine also requires strict secrecy regarding confessions, says Bill Brandt, the family's attorney. He argues that in going to authorities, church leaders "totally violated" policy and Johnson's trust in a move that left many church members "appalled."

Initially charged with first-degree sodomy, sexual abuse and unlawful sexual penetration of a child under 16, Johnson pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree sexual abuse in 2018 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Kristine Johnson is seeking $5.5 million for emotional distress and loss of income, plus $1 million each for four of the couple's children. While Oregon clergy are required to report suspected incidents of child abuse or neglect, that stipulation does include an exemption for "clergy-penitent privilege," as the Statesman Journal points out. But the Oregonian reports the lay clergy member who reported the abuse is a pharmacist, who is also required to report. In a statement, the Mormon church has reiterated that "protecting victims and ensuring proper reporting" is a top priority. (More Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stories.)

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