Mormon Church Leader Subpoenaed to Testify in Sex Abuse Case

Mormon TempleThomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been subpoenaed to give a deposition in the sexual abuse lawsuits filed by four Navajo Indian survivors. The four abuse claimants allege that they were sexually abused decades ago by members of their foster families while participating in an LDS Church placement program for Navajo children.

Attorneys for the Mormon Church have fought the lawsuits by attempting to remove them from Tribal Court to US Federal Court in Utah, arguing lack of jurisdiction.

Now, in response to Monson’s subpoena, the Church moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that Monson has no direct knowledge of the cases. This is a standard tactic. But there is more at issue than just the bare bones facts of the case. General sex abuse and child safety policies of the Church are also relevant. And, even more important, prior knowledge of the Church about the risks to children in foster homes, based on prior similar problems can be key in sex abuse cases.

Monson is the top guy in the Mormon church now and has been since 2008. Prior to that, since 1995, he was second-in-command as First Counselor to his predecessor, President Gordon B. Hinckley. And for ten years before that, since 1985, he was the third most important, serving as Second Counselor Presidents Howard W. Hunter and Ezra Taft Benson. The President and his two Counselors make up the First Presidency of the LDS Church, the “highest governing body of the Church.”

Before joining the First Presidency of the Mormon Church in 1985, Monson was one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1963. The Quorum of Twelve is the second-highest governing body in the Church and operates sort of like a Board of Directors.

So sure, Monson probably doesn’t have “direct knowledge” of these four abuse cases. He wasn’t the one interviewing foster families or conducting site visits. He wasn’t answering the phone when anyone called with information. But he was making decisions and setting policy. And if the Church had prior notice of any sex abuse problems in similar situations – either through prior lawsuits or reasonable review and management of Church programs – Monson would know about it. More than any other available witness, Monson has institutional knowledge that is key to the case.

This kind of institutional knowledge about the history, practices, policies, and even plain old gossip about who know what and when did they know it, is vital in sex abuse cases involving abuse that happened years ago. Taking the depositions of Church and organization leaders has been vital in cases we’ve had against the Catholic, Methodist, and Seventh Day Adventist Churches, as well as the Boy Scouts and other youth organizations.

In these cases against the LDS Church, the four alleged victims are two men and two women who filed their cases in Arizona’s Navajo Tribal Court. They say they were abused in the 1960s and 1970s while participating in the Church’s Indian Student Placement Program (ISPP). The ISPP placed newly baptized Navajo youths with LDS foster families during the school year, returning the children to the reservation during the summer.

Some of the four say they reported the sexual abuse to Church officials, but the abuse did not stop.

Monson should testify to answer questions about what policies the Mormon Church had to protect children in the ISPP from abuse, what prior notice the Church had about abuse in the ISPP or similar youth programs, and how the Church responded to reports of abuse. We hope the court allows the deposition to go forward.


Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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