Sees Pattern in Mormon Abuse
By Allison Landa
Tim Kosnoff sees a pattern.
Last March, the Bellevue, Washington-based attorney filed suit against the
Mormon Church and a former bishop in Portland, Oregon. His client, 19-year-old
Jeremiah Scott, says he was molested from ages 9 to 10. Repeatedly. By someone
he trusted. By a man of God.
Scott and his mother, Sandra Scott, invited Sunday-school teacher Frank Curtis
into their home nearly a decade ago to live with their family. The Scotts say
that former bishop Gregory Lee Foster knew Curtis had a history of molesting
children, but he covered it up, even when Sandra Scott sought his counsel before
allowing Curtis to live with them.
"(The Mormons) encourage good works, and this man was elderly. He had
approached my client's mother and said he wanted to live out his remaining years
in a family setting and asked if he could come and move in with them,"
Kosnoff said in a telephone conversation. "She went to the bishop and told
him what she was anticipating doing. The bishop was aware of problems with this
man and never said anything, never warned her, and as a result, she invited this
man into her home who proceeded to sexually abuse her son."
In researching the case, Kosnoff said, he found numerous sex-abuse cases
involving the Mormon Church which bore a resemblance to the Scott suit - one of
them local. In September 1997, prominent Fairfield physician and Mormon Church
leader John Parkinson was sentenced to 6 years in prison after being convicted
of 16 felony counts of sexual penetration. Parkinson was accused of giving
unnecessary pelvic exams to female patients, even after being stripped of his
medical license in March 1995 on grounds of negligence.
Kym Collins and her mother, Susan Collins, testified that Parkinson gave them
pelvic exams lasting nearly two hours, and that he performed the exams almost
daily. Kym Collins also alleged Parkinson professed romantic attraction to her
and wrote her suggestive poetry.
Linda Walker, who has helped Kosnoff research cases for his suit, said the case
of Lavar Rex Withers out of Rexburg, Idaho, bears resemblance to Parkinson's.
"They're both doctors, both Mormons, both abused in some of the same ways
with impunity for years," she said. It was covered up by the Mormon
church." It's a similar kind of situation, a doctor abusing patients,"
Few local patterns
Lt. Terry Thomas of the Fairfield Police Department - the agency which
investigated the Parkinson case - said it was an incident that has not, to his
knowledge, been repeated." It was a unique case," Thomas said.
"We certainly have not seen anything like it from a criminal
standpoint." In discussing the Parkinson case, Thomas highlighted
Parkinson's prominence as a doctor - and not his position in the Mormon Church -
as an integral factor. "It was unique in that in my opinion, this advantage
was taken of these women because of his position as a renowned physician,"
Thomas said. "He was not a doctor held in low esteem - he was regarded as a
good doctor, considered to be one of the better ones in the area."
Thomas C. Clark, a stake president in the local Mormon community, said that he
knows who Parkinson is, but added that church officials are precluded from
commenting on specific cases." This can be a problem," he said of the
no-commenting edict. "As a result, there can be abundant
misunderstanding." Code of silence? The pattern is one of secrecy, Kosnoff
said." There seems to be a real problem with the way these churches have
been handling the cases," he said. "They frequently discourage the
victims from going forward, circling the wagons to protect the
perpetrator." It's actually worse than a code of silence."
But Bishop Dan Wanberg of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the
Mormon Church - in Vacaville said that a primary responsibility of a church is
to hold its congregants to the law. That means making sure abuse is reported, he
said. "If any member has broken the law of the land, we encourage them to
turn themselves in. That's real important to us," Wanberg said.
Kosnoff disagreed. He said that, as with the Scott case, prior knowledge within
the church walls exists in many incidents of abuse. And, he added, many cases
are kept inside those walls." When they become aware that there's a
problem, they won't report it to authorities," he said. "They deal
with it internally, with counseling. That's foolhardy because pedophiles are a
pretty hard problem. You can't just fix them that way through counseling and
Some problems are handled within the church, Clark confirmed. "If we were
to learn about (criminal offenses) because a person comes to me and confesses
this kind of behavior, we would take internal action concerning that
individual," he said. "But unless the individual authorized us, we are
not obliged by California law to disclose that information. "So how would
Clark have handled the Portland case, in which the church is being accused of
covering up a past history of abuse?
"My own approach would be to talk to the individual who had the history of
misconduct and I would explain that in my view, it's a poor idea to be in that
situation (of living with a young boy) and pretty much make it clear that he
should not consider it," Clark said. "I think that would probably
resolve the situation. It would be a situation where I wouldn't necessarily have
to say anything about it, but by one means or another make it so the (abuse)
'Not your typical church'
Fairfield's Mormon community was greatly affected - and deeply divided - by the
Parkinson trial and by the Collins' accusations. Both Susan and Kym Collins were
once outspoken supporters of Parkinson, with Susan Collins even testifying
before the state Medical Board when his license was in jeopardy.Such support
occurs because the Mormon Church is a uniquely tight-knit organization, Kosnoff
said."This is not like your typical Protestant church. This is a life
system that they have in place, and it requires the surrendering of an
incredible amount of individual autonomy."
"Not so", Wanberg said. In fact, membership in the church is
contingent upon obeying the law, he contends. Parkinson's crime, Wanberg said,
would be grounds for excommunication - "If it can be verified."
'Allows pedophiles to flourish'
Before Frank Curtis allegedly molested Jeremiah Scott, he had been previously
arrested and pleaded no contest to a charge of first-degree sexual abuse, the
Idaho Post-Register newspaper reported in March. By keeping Curtis's arrest
record secret, the church's former bishop allowed a malevolent and silent
pattern of abuse to continue, Kosnoff charged. "The structure allows
pedophiles, I believe, to flourish," he said. "The church has been on
notice for about 10 years. Their lay clergy are not effectively dealing with the
Clark couldn't disagree more, saying that that doesn't happen locally. "I
hear this stuff about old-boy protectionism and church leaders who are trying to
protect someone who is a transgressor," he said. "I've been serving in
the Mormon Church (in the Bay Area) in one capacity or another for 30 years, and
I've never seen anyone I personally know about ever try to do that kind of
thing. It is not the sort of thing I've ever seen happen, and certainly would
not happen because of some institutional prejudice in one way or another.
"The directions we receive as leaders are very extremely clear. We view
ourselves as being the Savior's servants, and His concern for children, women
and the defenseless is immense."
But Tim Kosnoff doesn't buy that argument - and he'll tell that to the judge in
Portland. "The big question is why they cannot make the changes necessary
to protect their kids," he said.
"Why won't they?"
"They're just in denial."
Law Offices of Timothy D. Kosnoff, P.C.
800 Bellevue Way N.E.
Bellevue, WA 98004