Kristine Johnson is suing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for reporting her husband’s sexual abuse of an underage girl.
The lawsuit is an attempt to hold the church responsible for “loss of income, emotional distress and her family’s loss of her husband’s companionship,” to the tune of $9.5 million — plus $40,000 to cover their legal expenses. Johnson claims the church went against its principles of confidential confession when it reported her husband’s admission that he sexually abused an underage girl.
Johnson learned of her husband’s crime in 2016. She and her husband responded, according to the lawsuit, by “[following] 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 argues that Kristine and her husband Timothy should have been advised that the confession would not remain private. Timothy Johnson was arrested for the sexual abuse of a minor in 2017, convicted of four counts of sexual abuse in 2018, and is currently serving a 15-year sentence in a Pendleton, Orgeon, prison.
In a statement, the Mormon organization maintains that it followed both its teachings and the Oregon state law that requires any confession of child abuse or neglect to be reported. “The church teaches that leaders and members should fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said.
University at Buffalo School of Law professor Christine Bartholomew told the Oregonian that the lawsuit’s outcome may affect more than just the Johnson family. “If successful, this litigation would push courts and these religious organizations toward less transparency than more,” she explained. “And you have to wonder if that would create the environment where abuse can really fester.”
David Clohessy, former national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, lauded the church’s decision to protect Johnson’s victims more than their rapist. “It’s not just a parent’s job to protect their kids from predators, it’s the job of every single adult,” Clohessy said. “So adults who do put the safety of kids first should be applauded, not penalized.”