A group of six families is suing the LDS church after claiming the church covered up child sex abuse of another member in West Virginia. The six families have nine children between them and all filed the lawsuit against The Corporation of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">At 10: the LDS Church headed to court facing multiple families who allege the church protected a known sexual abuser who abused many children because of its silence.</p>— Heidi Hatch (@tvheidihatch) <a href="https://twitter.com/tvheidihatch/status/941168710454165506?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 14, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The LDS leaders are alleged to have known that one of their members, a man named Michael Jensen, was an active pedophile and covered up the abuse that went on for years. The case will go to trial in January. One plaintiff named Helen reported the abuse of her 4 and 6-year-old children to her bishop, the leader of her Martinsburg, West Virginia congregation, but because the abuser's mother was also the relief society president nothing was done about it.
Helen said, "My church family preached to me about forgiveness– that I needed to forgive him. How do you forgive something like that?" The abuse she alleges took place over the course of two months in 2008 according to court documents. Then, in January 2012, the children told their parents what Jensen had done.
She didn't immediately report the abuse to the police, a fact she says she regrets. "That is something that does eat at me. It is something that I wish that if I could go back and change, I would have done it differently," she said. "I felt if I couldn't even get these people that are supposed to have my family's best interest, why would a jury believe what happened?"
The abuser, Michael Jensen, was indicted for abusing other children in 2012. She says one of her sons testified at the trial but not about crimes against him. These 2012 charges were for abusing two children in 2007 when he made a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old boy perform oral sex on him while he was babysitting them.
Jensen was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the charges against the two boys in 2007. The lawsuit by the families of his other Mormon victims states, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day (sic) Saints knew that it had a sex offender in its midst as early as December 2004-January 2005, when Michael Jensen was charged in Provo, Utah, with felony sexual abuse of two girls and pled guilty to two sex offenses in the presence of his parents (who became Church leaders) and a Church bishop in Provo."
The lawsuit goes on to say the church is at fault because instead of warning others of Jensen, they covered up, minimized and denied" his abuse and "dangerous proclivities; sponsored false explanations when evidence of abuse surfaced; touted him as a trustworthy and exceptional member of the Church community."
Helen says she isn't looking for forgiveness, she wants justice, "And this is the only way I know how to do it,” she said. “The only way for [my son’s] voice to be heard and my voice to be heard and to force them to change their policies so that this doesn’t happen again."
While the church would not comment on Jensen specifically, they did issue this statement:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not tolerate abuse of any kind. We take seriously our role as a recognized national leader in ensuring that child abuse prevention efforts are in place and followed – as happened in this case. In fact, it was the Church that first encouraged the parents to report the abuse and then made their own report as a confirmation. While the Church is, and will always be, heartbroken about the terrible actions of this individual, we are thankful that he is behind bars, where he should be. We encourage parents to come forth immediately to authorities when they believe their child has been the subject of harm.
The Church cannot comment specifically on pending litigation, but will present a solid case reaffirming its commitment to not only keeping children safe, but also taking action when there is reason to believe that harm has occurred."
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