Marion County Courthouse (File/Salem Reporter)
A local woman has sued the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nearly $10 million after a church counselor reported her husband’s confession of sexually abusing a minor.
According to the lawsuit, in 2016 Kristine Johnson learned that her husband, Timothy, had sexually abused a minor. The couple belonged to a Latter-Day Saints congregation in Stayton and followed church scripture that required Timothy Johnson to “confess and repent his sins” to clergy.
The lawsuit states that the congregation’s clergy told the couple that the confession would be strictly confidential under church doctrine. However, a church counselor reported Johnson’s confession to authorities, resulting in his conviction and imprisonment.
“Defendant breached its fiduciary duty by failing to disclose that despite the express doctrine of confidentially intended to assist the family through difficult times, that members of the clergy would in fact report that which was disclosed and ‘confessed’ pursuant to mandated Church scripture,” reads the lawsuit, filed Jan. 3 in Marion County Circuit Court.
As a result of Johnson’s imprisonment, his wife and four children have been deprived “of his companionship, society, love, affection and pecuniary interest,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the church of negligence, breach of fiduciary responsibility and interfering with the family’s economic prospects and seeks financial compensation. Specifically, it asks for $5.5 million for Kristine Johnson’s extreme emotional distress and loss of her husband’s income as a sculptor, as well as $40,000 for his criminal defense.
The lawsuit seeks an additional $1 million each for each of the couple’s four children.
Johnson is represented by Salem attorney William Brandt.
In Oregon, clergy is included in the list of professionals that are required to report abuse.
The church responded with a statement:
"Protecting victims and ensuring proper reporting is a top priority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church teaches that leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities."
Update: This article has been updated with a comment from the church.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.